I wrote this essay on the eve of my return to my last semester of college. As I reflect on the time of year that is it—back-to-school—I am getting flashbacks of the heaviness of anticipation that weighed on me each semester before I went back to college. I think about all of my friends headed back to school—sophomores, juniors, seniors—and want to share these reflections with them as they perhaps anticipate their own return.
Maybe yours isn’t a kind of nervous anticipation, but excited. And that’s great. But, I think no matter where you’re at, you’re used to the life of hustle that awaits you back at school. So. Here’s some comments on my experience with the hustle. Here’s some words I needed drilled into my brain time and time again on a campus that is all too wrapped up in the pursuit of “better.”
For you, GCC.
Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Tomorrow I go back to college for my last semester. I’m sitting here in my bedroom, looking at my piles of clothes, toiletries, and shoes, and am making a mental list of all the jobs I’d be qualified for if I just dropped out right now. “I could hike the Appalachian Trial! I could work at Starbucks! I could become an Extreme Couponer!” As much as I want to be excited for this these final months of school, as much as I want to make the best of the time I have left, I sort of feel like that kid on the first day of kindergarten who has to be pried out of his mother’s mini-van against his will while kicking and screaming like his life depended on it. The only difference in my situation is that I no longer wear velcro sneakers and clothes my mom bought for me at OshKosh.
For a person who has moved four times, you would think I’d be better at nights like these, that I’d be great at handling times of transition and change. But as it turns out, the anticipation of the unknown has never been a friend of mine. I’ve always been this way, finding the comfort of the present preferable to the mystery of the future. But it wasn’t until I was sixteen years old til I first experienced “the eye-twitch,” the ultimate physical manifestation of my mind and body’s inability to manage the anticipation and anxiety of the unknown.
I’ve always been this way, finding the comfort of the present preferable to the mystery of the future.
The eye twitch first came out to play during the days leading up to a mission trip I went on to Guatemala. I was so nervous anticipating my first trip on an airplane, speaking Spanish, traveling to a country I didn’t know much about. In these kind of situations, some people get a sinking feeling in their stomach, or are unable to sleep, but I have blessed with the spastic eye twitch. And I don’t say blessed sarcastically or stereotypically; I genuinely feel grateful to this physical response my body uses to indicate that the anticipation of the unknown is overtaking me and getting out of hand. I view the eye twitch as a warning sign that I need to take care of myself, that my emotions need checked, that something needs to be done. The moment my eye twitch makes her presence known, I recognize that it’s time to alter the course, because this plane is about to crash.
A couple days ago, I felt it again: the eye twitch. And what was I doing? Making a to-do list, my own self-prescribed remedy for tackling the anticipation of the unknown that was weighing so heavily on me. I thought making a to-do list would be a helpful exercise, a way to make good use of my time. So there I was, making my to-do list thinking: Making lists is a good use of my time! Making a list is not unreasonable! I am a strong woman, and this list is great! Watch out future, because here I come! I sure have got my shit together! But then the bullet points got longer and longer, the page length increased by the minute, my worry began to pile on top of me as I dug myself deeper and deeper into a hole, the anticipation of the future weighing so heavily on me that my body could no longer handle it. I sat there at my desk that is much too small for my long legs and my eye twitched again and again. It turns out I didn’t have my shit together. In fact, in making that list, I realized how unhealthy my coping mechanisms are, how deeply I need lifted out of the pit I dig myself into time and time again, how utterly incapable I am to relieve my anxiety about the unknown by my own sheer will.
I realized how unhealthy my coping mechanisms are, how deeply I need lifted out of the pit I dig myself into time and time again, how utterly incapable I am to relieve my anxiety about the unknown by my own sheer will.
That to-do list was supposed to be the way I would dig myself out of my pit of worry, the way I would conquer and defeat the anticipation of the unknown which is an ever-present companion in this season of life. It would be the way I would expel the thoughts, calm my mind, remedy the anxiety. But it turns out that my concoction to relieve my nervousness—rationality and planning—was poison, not the elixir of life like I hoped it would be. While some days we need a list to provide structure in the chaos, what I needed then was to put down the pen and step back and realize I was in deep and needed help getting out of the mess I’d made. I know so many people who are like me, ignoring our bodies—the eye twitches, the tension headaches, the lack of appetite, the sheer exhaustion—and not seeing that these physical signs are God’s way of warning us that we are beings with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs who are not sustainable on our own. That we need a hand to lift us up from down there.
It can be so hard for me to slow down, to admit that I can’t do everything on my own, to extend my hand and cry out for help. For all those perfectionists out there, (and those who haven’t yet admitted you are a perfectionist) we know that we ignore the signs, the warnings, the sirens, the lifelines from those who have noticed our masochistic lifestyle. We’ve gotten quite good at ignoring the flashing red light, calling off the search-and-rescue crew. We’ve learned how to keep our noses to the ground, eyes on the prize, minimize the pain and maximize the profit: we map out our days to be efficient producers, great achievers, to-do list aficionados. Hustle becomes the name of our the game. And why? Because society tells us that this kind of lifestyle is good; a lifestyle of to-do lists and a whole lot of hustling is what will get us ahead and help us become the kind of person that people respect and admire. After all, if we hustle, the future won’t make us so anxious! Hustle is the answer, the remedy, the solution, the antidote.
It turns out that my concoction to relieve my nervousness—rationality and planning—was poison, not the elixir of life like I hoped it would be.
Society preaches that hustle is the means by which any situation will become “better.” Often times though, this notion of better isn’t actually better. Within the prescribed boundaries of better, we find a life plan that focuses on bigger and greater and faster instead of humble and content and patient. This pursuit of better causes a dad to skip family dinner because he believes he has to be promoted in order to be the best dad he can be. This pursuit of better causes a mother to spend more hours feeling like a bad mom more than a perfectly good one because her toddler only likes to eat Cheetos at play group instead of organic Kale chips. This pursuit of better causes a college student to cry on every phone call home because she can’t seem to get to the end of her to-do list. All these people are trying to better, but when they lay their head on the pillow after a long day of hustling, the standard that they and others have prescribed in this plan they are calling life is neither great nor enough. It is empty and exhausting.
Tonight as I sit on my bed look at my piles of clothes, toiletries, and shoes, I am exhausted at trying to be better. I am exhausted of making to-do lists. I am exhausted with this stupid eye-twitch. I am ready to re-define what is better, and what it looks like to make the best of my time at college. I am ready to slow down and let myself say no to hustle and yes to simplicity. I’m ready to stop laughing at the campus joke that “my best isn’t good enough since 1876” because I want to be content in the fact and truth that my best is good enough even if it isn’t the best of the best. I am ready to not hide behind a brave face, to not keep my nose the ground, to admit to people that I don’t actually have my shit together. To begin actually believing the truth instead of pretending to.
I hope that this time I’ll finally believe that my best is good enough, that I am enough even when I am not good.
Tomorrow I’ll drive North to finish college, to see about rewriting the definition of better. I know it will be overwhelming, and the cafeteria will seem noisy, and the people will all seem strangely happy. I know the anticipation of the unknown will seem all-consuming at times, that I’ll want to make mental lists and physical lists, and propose hypothetical jobs that I could get if I dropped out. And I know that I will probably find myself at the bottom of the pit I so easily dig for myself to fall in to. But I hope that I will remember these words I’ve put down on this page, the lifeline that will save me from myself.
For the first time in seven semesters, I hope that this time I’ll finally believe that my best is good enough, that I am enough even when I am not good. I hope that I’ll remember that the greatest man who walked this earth wasn’t a maker of to-do lists. His best wasn’t good enough in the eyes of man, but in the eyes of the One who mattered, His life was enough to save the entirety of humanity. I’ll put my trust in the one whose best has and always been good enough since the beginning of time.