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Stress Fest

It is odd to be young and to have so much pressure thrust upon us. I speak often to my residents, my freshmen, and in the tenor of their words I can always hear how they’re drowning. They smile still but it’s duller. Once, I came back from class to find three of them sprawled out in the hallway, talking about a test they’d gotten back, a test on which they’d gotten bad grades even though their professor had given others good grades for the same responses. This same professor that barely even taught them. I sat with them and let them complain, and two of my sophomores eventually did as well. Their complaints weren’t anything new to me; I’d heard them time and time again. The reality is, there’s a poison on our campus and the administration chooses to ignore it. Thus it spreads.

             But that isn’t what this is about. This is about the weeks people have in college that feel like the end of the world. They operate under many names, but the most common is “hell week.” When all of our tests and quizzes and assignments come tumbling for us like an avalanche. Hell week is a different week for different people, but usually we’ll always have our fellow warriors fighting through miles of burning hell with us. We’re all fighting the same battle and it’s important for us to allow them to help us keep going when we stumble.

             This, though, isn’t the point either.

             The point is this: hell week is just a week. It is a rough week, certainly, but it is only five to seven days. Five to seven days of the thousands more you’ll have. One week out of the hundreds more you’ll experience. We are young, so we don’t have much of a frame of reference for disaster or tragedy. Because we’ve never really experienced anything like it before, each new wave of stress and panic, worse than the last, feels like the end of everything. It’s not. We still have an entire life to live. We still have so many more days and weeks and years. One week is not going to make or break you. One week is just that. One week. Even a bad semester doesn’t define you. A bad year. You are more than how you perform in class. Never forget that school is a skill, not a measure of intelligence. Some perform better than others because they are more skilled at what school requires of them. A bad test hurts, definitely. Many tests in the same week is stressful, certainly. But they are not the end.

             It’s important to realize that: They are not the end. You have so much more to enjoy. Try, even in the midst of a hell week, to give yourself a break to do something you enjoy doing. Listen to a song. Take a walk. Talk to a friend. Read a chapter of a book. And for goodness sake, shower. Eat. Sleep. Take care of yourself. When I dropped my intended career path, people told me “good for you” and “I’m really happy for you, that you value your health that much,” and I balked. Valuing my health over my academics—that sounded, and in a way still sounds, wrong. Valuing my health feels weak. It feels like I’ve failed. How odd is that? This thing which determines the quality and quantity of my life—valuing it feels wrong. That feeling is wrong. It is my feeling and it is still there, but I know enough to recognize it’s wrong. For you, too. Value your health. It is important. It is the most important thing you have. Cherish it. Some don’t have it.

             I don’t know how to emphasize it enough, but your life is unfurling in front of you in the form of so many different pathways. There’s not just one. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. You don’t have to do what you think you have to do. Do what you can, what you want, and if you take a lesson out of it that relates to what you want to do in life, then that’s all that matters. You don’t have to intern. You don’t have to volunteer. You don’t have to research. If you do these things, do them because you want to, not because you feel like you have to, and do what you enjoy out of them. Don’t do biology research because you think you must. If you enjoy sociology, do sociology research. Don’t volunteer at a law firm because you think you have to. Volunteer at an animal shelter and observe. What you take from an experience is all that matters. It matters more than what you’re doing. I promise you that.

             We’ve got so much more to live for than just a number on a page. We are worth so much more than that. We deserve more than panic at the thought of too many papers worth too much in an institution that places too much pressure on too many students. We all know that. The challenge is believing it. 

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