There are only so many articles left for me to write. I, like many of you, am tired of my typical vitriol. I’ve said my piece. Instead, I am turning a new leaf for the end.
I lead a weekly tutorial for an English class. Two weeks ago, after class, I was talking to some of my students. We discussed the most recent paper, the new essay topics, and the issue of stress in academia.
Anxiety has become the proud trophy of Western success. If you are stressed out, you’re working hard enough. Being anxious is a badge of honour. It means you must be doing nearly enough.
I see anxiety-ridden faces in the library during exam and paper season. I see the faces of my students the day they hand in a paper. I’ve experienced the crushing dread of schoolwork and expectation.
This is no specific individual’s fault. In my experience, I have had amazing professors who have accommodated, supported and assisted my seven-year academic career. Instead, like so many things, the problem of angst is a culture. A culture we have come to accept and even respect.
The cost of anxiety is limitless. Your heart. Your family. Your well-being. Yourself. There is no end to what stress can destruct. It can begin with the first assignment of a semester and end with you waking up at the end of your degree wondering “where the hell are all the things I love?”
Angst is the ultimate drug. At the outset, it confirms that you’re working hard. When you accomplish something and experience the following relief, the sensation is addictive. You search for another thing to work on, to stress you out, so you can claw back that high of accomplishment.
Like any addiction, it eats away at you. Annihilates everything you thought you were.
And then there are the coinciding addictions to stress. To ease your heart rate, there’s sex, narcotics and alcohol. Each of these things brings a relief, if for a brief second. But like stress, they reduce you to a semblance of yourself.
I’ve painted a dark picture. I can see it. I am being paternal. I can hear it. But please, hear me out.
Don’t let the stress of your career aspirations, the anxiety of university, get the best of you. Don’t let it take away what you love. If you love reading, don’t let studying wreck that for you. If you have a family, don’t isolate yourself by obsessing over success. Whatever or whoever you are, don’t let the pressure of success or accomplishment tear yourself away from you.
Each one of us is so much more than our failures. We are also far more than our successes.
I hate the self-help genre. It drives me nuts. It’s techniques for better living. Five-step programs to the life you wanted. Methods of becoming a better you. It’s false guarantees. It’s empty promises.
So don’t take this as self-help. Dear god, please. Take it as a reason to go out this weekend and spend time with company you enjoy.
Find what you love. Be it family, yourself, your passion. And set out to do whatever it takes to keep it. As you do this, never forget that you are a human that needs happiness and comfort and entertainment and free time and catharsis. Never allow yourself to be reduced to whether or not you work hard.
The minute you forget yourself, the moment you become defined by stress and hard work, you’ve left behind everything beautiful about what you are. Don’t let university do that to you.
Instead, use your tenure in university to create the person you want to become. Do not use it only as a springboard towards a career or success. Use it to establish healthy patterns. To cultivate the person you want to be. Do not let it define you. Define it.
Put time into creating relationships during your university career. I have barely a friend from high school. Many of my close friends and relationships are people I met during my two degrees. One of the most valuable things I am coming away from after my time at UNB is mentors I look up to and close friends I can call a new family.
Refuse the university’s culture of stress. Renounce its request for anxiety. Work hard. Work your ass off. But never, for a single moment, let it get the best of you. Letting hard work and angst become you means that before you can say “six figure salary,” you’ll see the best parts of yourself, your life, flushed down the toilet.