There's always a point in the middle of February
There’s always a point in the middle of February, in the midst of the grey skies, cold mornings and early nightfall that I begin to feel like I can’t really keep up anymore. That all the work, the stress, the late nights, the pressure to do everything correctly is all too much, and a feeling of inadequacy and worthlessness overwhelms me and leaves me feeling as if I’ll never be able to handle it all.
There’s a certain mindset at the University, a certain strange fixation, with doing everything and anything all at once and doing it exceptionally well — perfectly, even. Everyone is the president of some organization, or the research student in some lab, or applying to some prestigious grant, and they’re doing it all while still finding time to have a blossoming social life or fall in love with some impossibly wonderful significant other. And here I sit, a confused 21-year-old-girl who still doesn’t really know her multiplication tables — let alone what she should be doing with her life.
I have this deep-rooted fear that someday some official in a trench coat and sunglasses will come up to me at Alderman Library, asking me to come with him and informing me that there has been a mistake — they meant to accept another Mary Louise Montgomery and it’s time for me to go. And I’ll pack up my things and sell my books and head home because, really, didn’t it always seem like a dream that I got in here? Don’t I often find myself looking around in awe, stupefied that I was chosen to learn and live alongside these exceptional students and people I call my classmates?
I am always amazed and humbled by what impressive people my friends are, how involved and passionate, intelligent and driven they all are in their respective lives, paving out these existences of success and accomplishment and seeming to do pretty much everything right.
I remember my 9th-grade biology teacher asking me where I wanted to go to college and the look on her face when I told her the University of Virginia. “That’s a really good school,” she carefully intoned, the true meaning behind her words settling their weight on the top of my lanky 15-year-old frame. Sometimes, I still feel that way here: like I’m a nervous high-schooler in a too warm biology classroom feeling like she has gotten it all wrong.
Truth be told, my teacher probably disliked me due to my clear disinterest in diagramming mitochondria and discussing the life cycles of plants, but the feeling I had that day is still one that creeps up on me from time to time. It sinisterly whispers in my ear, telling me that maybe I am out of my league here, that maybe everyone else is doing everything the right way and I always, always will be one step behind.
Yet somewhere between my many mistakes and errors, between the tests I forgot to study for and the internships I never received, I learned something about life: by consistently trying to do everything the right way, trying to do everything perfectly, we exist in a closed world of self-obsession. Always fixated on what we can do to make ourselves seem a little bit better on that resume or more well-liked at school, we place ourselves in a hushed bubble in which we distance ourselves from life and the things happening around us by only looking at ourselves.
So yes, while I often find myself fearing that I’m not accomplished or talented enough, losing myself in an inward battle of doubt, I remind myself to step back and stop worrying about doing everything perfectly. To just live, exist openly as I am and do the best I can. Right now it’s February and grey outside, and I am sitting alone in the library with an impossible amount of work to do, but soon it will be March. Spring will be turning the leaves outside my window green, and everything will seem to make a little bit more sense.