Over the entirety of my college career, I’ve had this looming feeling of failure. Even in my final days of my bachelor’s degree as I write this, I keep thinking that something could go wrong. “It probably won’t,” I tell myself, but what if something does?
Truly, throughout this final semester, I’ve been hanging on the edge of my seat. I feel like I’m at an award’s show and they may or may not call my name. They probably won’t call my name. I just keep thinking that due to some mix-up or strange circumstance someone will have to break the news to me that I’m ineligible for graduation and I’ll say, “Well, yes, of course. I totally understand. I didn’t do the blah blah blah.” And I’ll just have to go on with my life without a college degree.
Shielding myself from the possibility of failure
The reality is, I am going to graduate. It’s going to happen and very soon. Additionally, I’ve gotten better grades than I ever anticipated in just about every one of my classes I’ve ever taken. So, why the heck do I do this to myself? And what have I learned over the last four years?
Partly, I think it’s because I want to prepare for the worst possible outcome and be surprised by a wonderfully happy one. The other part is that my brother and I are the only two in my immediate family to have graduated from college. He’s studying for his PhD now and I couldn’t be more proud.
As I said in a previous post, I really never thought I’d graduate from college. Where and how I grew up, it just wasn’t an option. Now that I’ve done it, I’m still afraid of it being ripped from my hands before I can put my hands on that totally 100% real I-earned-it-all-by-myself degree.
And so, I have this knee-jerk reaction to shield myself from disappointment right up until the moment it becomes real. (I can at times take rejection kind of personally, so I’d rather avoid it if possible.)
The never-ending cycle of accomplishment
So, I work, and work, and work. I reach for the stars, but prepare to never get there. I found myself trying my absolute hardest on each and every paper, test, group project, etc. And when I thought that it would be a good idea to beef up my resume with a degree and some related work, I tried my hardest at that too and came out the other side with two steady writing jobs and two writing internships. And I tried really hard at those too. But sometimes, because of this pattern of “get task, try hard, accomplish thing, reach for new task, and repeat,” I found myself feeling like I rushed a bit through college.
What I’ve learned from living my life this way is that I don’t always recognize milestones, achievements, or simply just positive events as they happen. They all seem like small stepping stones on the way to a much larger accomplishment, one which I might not celebrate properly until it’s already passed as well.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that when I was in college, I wish I celebrated myself more. I wish I told myself that I was good enough and that I was proud of myself for getting an “A” on a paper, passing a class with flying colors, getting on the dean’s list, or graduating with honors.
To me, while I was in school, these were all pieces of the pie. Pieces of a whole that (I didn’t realize at the time) I’d never be able to smash into a real positive moment for myself.
I now know that I have a problem with celebrating my success. And that problem can be infectious. It can work its way into so many other parts of your life. For me, at times, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t honestly know if I’ll ever see myself as “getting there” and being proud of my own accomplishments. But I know now that this mindset has got to go.
In with the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and out with the unbreakable glass ceiling I’ve built for myself.
Realizing my fire and being kinder to myself
However, I do also want to acknowledge there are positives and negatives which come with this outlook. Yes, I do have a problem celebrating my successes and that is something I need to work on, but at the same time, I should recognize that I have a lot of passion, drive, and determination which gets me through to these milestones when they happen—I just need to get better at recognizing it while I’m doing it.
Although it was maybe difficult for me to slow down and give myself a pat on the back for getting on the dean’s list, writing a 15 page short story I was really proud of, or being nominated for the Student Employee of the Year Award, I still did all of those things and that in itself is something to be proud of. And I think that’s where my focus should ultimately end up.
For those of you who can relate to being hard on yourself, here’s what I want to say: take tiny steps toward being nicer to yourself. I know it may feel strange and even like your bragging sometimes, but learning how to recognize all the positive things about how hard you work, your ability to be undeterred in your goals, and your impeccable follow through with all of your collegiate dreams should be celebrated!
Change is good, but don’t focus on the negative
This is a beautiful time in your life in which you can choose to live your college career as a full-bodied experience or as a checkmark on your list of life.
For those of you who are graduating with me, now is one of those special moments in life where you get to brag about yourself and your accomplishments for a moment. I urge you to do so. I urge you to bask in this positive moment and know that you are the sole reason you are walking down to get that degree. Feel how good it feels to purely love yourself in this moment and take that positivity into the next moment of your life—and repeat it.
In with the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and out with focusing only on the negative.
I don’t really know how I’m going to hold myself to all of this after I graduate, but I know that I have to in order to ever be happy in my career and happy with myself as a person. I know I’m going to work on saying out loud that I am good enough, saying out loud that I worked hard for this, saying out loud that I can do everything I set my mind to—and I have evidence of that in achieving my undergraduate degree!
So, I might not be fully confident that I can immediately change the way I look at accomplishments, recognize them, and give myself praise, but I’ll keep it in my reminders, if you’ll keep it in yours.