Next Steps: The Fear

As university slowly crawls into final semester and graduation day sits as a tangible, looming date in the calendar, it’s no wonder that one’s apprehension may exponentially increase with each passing day. Humans have a horrible habit of judging their own self-worth by the value of others, which is only exacerbated in a world ruled by pervasive social media. Hearing other fellow final year students declare “I got a place on this awesome grad scheme that pays really well!”, or “I’m planning my round-the-world trip for next year” can be utterly soul-destroying if you’re still dangling in the midst of indecision about your own future. How on earth do they appear to have their lives so together and well figured out when I still can’t wake up on time for a 10am lecture without the aid of 16 separate alarms and a full litre of coffee? One has to ponder.

Why does this expectation even exist in the first place, though? This constant pressure that we always need to know what we’re doing and have some sort of plan (and subsequent four back-up plans in case something goes wrong) in place is exhausting and lends little time to just take a break from the onslaught of life and actually chill every once in a while. I am horrifically guilty of working myself into a state of chronic anxiety and inhuman sweating about my future plans. What if I only have 50 odd years left? Do I have time to visit all the countries I want to? Establish a successful career? See the Northern Lights? Go skydiving? Learn at least one other language? (I fear that ship sailed a long time ago in the midst of my poor attempts at high school French lessons). I don’t even want to think about having kids any time in the near future, but I feel myself becoming unnervingly less repulsed by them than I used to be; a sure symptom of my biological clock joining in the angst party and screaming “but you’re 24 this year, hurry up woman, YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED FOR THIS!”. Even my own ovaries are against me.


Yet, ironically, I feel like some of my best successes and choices have been riddled with anxiety and self-doubt; it may be one of the most frustrating facets of the human condition, but sometimes, if used right, it might actually come in handy. Fear is definitely one of the best motivators out there. If you asked me to run a 5k tomorrow, I can guarantee I could probably singe your shirt with the level of venom instilled in my answering glare; however, if I was being chased by an angry, blood-lusting bear with the alleged sexual preferences of the one featured in the Revenant, I would quite happily jog on without complaining. Whilst this comparison isn’t entirely fair or accurate to real life unless you live in rural Canada, the principle is similar. If it weren’t for the fear and anxiousness that I won’t reach my full potential, or live out certain experiences that are important to me, I’m not entirely sure that I would be even half as motivated to truly push to make them a reality.

Nobody enjoys lying awake at night contemplating the cracks on their ceiling as a metaphor for their decaying sense of life direction, nor do they relish feeling inferior in the presence of others who appear to ‘have their shit together’. In all honesty, I don’t think anyone ever fully does; what we have gotten exceedingly good at is crafting a public facade that provides the illusion of 24/7 contentment, which in reality does a disservice to us all. When we insist on holding certain standards and life goals as the norm, there is no room for spontaneity or treading off the beaten path – and yet it is infuriatingly difficult to let go of these preconceptions of what our lives should look like.

It’s okay to take a pause sometimes and just be. When you’re ready to face the onslaught once more, if you’re really lucky, your fears and anxiety may become more of a friend than a foe in helping you take the leap to where you want to be. If not, you’re not alone – only human – and we all can’t help but indulge in some routine self-torture every once in a while.

[Annie Milburn]


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