The first article of the year is always tricky to write. What if this column happens to be one of the first things you read this semester? I want it to sound welcoming but sophisticated, encouraging yet truthful, and then it becomes all the more stressful as it makes me realize how far I fall short of being a good writer. It makes me sink deep. That, dear friends, is the power of self-pressure and false expectations.
Don’t get me wrong, having expectations isn’t evil. Striving to do better, to improve ourselves, may be painful at times, but it’s a struggle that’s worth experiencing. It’s just that things start to fall apart once we establish those ideals so high and place ourselves so far down. It all becomes worse as we continually beat ourselves up in the process of trying to do what we think everyone expects from us—but the truth is, it’s rarely others’ expectations that cause the problem. The newspaper awaits the arrival of my article, but I’m the one pushing hardest to achieve so-called perfection in writing a great article for a new semester. Although my ambition isn’t necessarily a bad one, the pressure has made me feel miserable for the last ten days and disturbed my sleep. Where did I cross the line of hopeful expectation to the side of destructive pressure?
The only reason I could think of is the fact that I place myself, my identity, in this world. Without realizing it, we tend to fix our identities in what we study, the grades we receive, our jobs, or the supposed quality of our lives as determined by our possessions. Once I started to think of myself as a columnist, the pleasure of writing subsided and was replaced with the pressure of writing something that was “good enough.” Whenever I tried to force myself to be a “good literature student,” whatever that means, the acts of reading and writing became strenuous tasks rather than part of a learning process.
Now the vital question remains to be asked: What to do when simple joys of life turn into torture of the soul? What to do when your job goes wrong or your grades fall, taking everything down with them? It’s in those moments we should recognize one of the biggest mistakes we so continually make—giving ourselves false identities. I acknowledge the reality that school, work, and even families have an importance in how we live—yet still, they should never, ever define who we are as a person. They cannot become the anchors of our souls, connecting us to this world. When everything else goes wrong, we need to hold onto the truth that there is something deeper, something personal about ourselves, and that’s what makes us precious.
Gaining the understanding of this very simple yet often forgotten fact is what we need in this age. It’s terribly difficult, but essential to the very core of life. Knowing that we are much more than what the world claims us to be has become even more indispensable. The world is falling apart; there is no question about that. It is harsher than ever—universal values like love, kindness, patience, joy are under attack on a daily basis, whereas hatred, asperity, anger are abundant and applauded.
Then what are we to do when everything is unstable? The solution is, I’m afraid, not exactly simple, but as always, the key is to endure the presence of a few caterpillars if we wish to become acquainted with butterflies. Hold onto whatever is true, hold fast to the goodness you still have. Protect your tenderness and display acts of kindness. Be the kind of crazy person who makes everyone around you think that you are a hopeless stargazer. Yet remember, there is always hope if you know where to look.
As the new semester starts, dear fellow Bilkenters, remember the words of the wise fox to the little prince: “It’s the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” Spend, or even “waste,” time on whatever you want to see as important in your life. It’s hard to see the good things coming to fruition in our lives when all we do is sit down, sulk, and complain. We reap what we sow. Humanity has sown thousands of years of hatred, war and blood on our poor planet, and this is what we are reaping right now. Perhaps it’s time to do things a bit differently, don’t you think? Take responsibility for whatever parcel of the world is given to you, while also remembering who you are, and aspire to be the change. A small act of kindness goes a long way.
Happy September, and welcome (back) to school!