A year ago, I promised myself that my last semester at Cornell would be chill. Every time I sat in the physics learning center staring blankly at yet another problem about a skydiver jumping out of a plane, I would calm my inner rage and frustration by assuring myself that I would get a nice, well-deserved break to round off my senior year. I had heard one too many stories about students taking just 12 credits in their last semester, most of which were an assortment of “comically easy” classes that one could “get an A+ in by only attending the final” (I’m quoting directly from RateMyProfessor here). I couldn’t wait to answer the notorious “how is your semester going?” question honestly, and maybe even remember what it felt like to not be perpetually tired.
Well, that didn’t work out at all.
Somehow, this semester is the most stressful one I have had at Cornell. For reasons that are completely my own fault, I severely procrastinated on taking the MCAT and now find myself lugging prep books around with me everywhere I go. Like most seniors, I already finished my major requirements so I ingeniously thought now would be a good time to take upper-level neuroscience classes in which I have no background. On top of that, I apparently have to, like, figure out what I’m doing with my life after graduation. How unfair is that? These commitments, and a few others I need not mention, have molded me into that one friend who is constantly trudging into class ten minutes late, coffee in hand, obnoxiously exclaiming, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day!” Needless to say, I wake up every morning dreading getting out of bed.
Yet what I have found strange throughout this whole ordeal is my uncharacteristic lack of panic. In the past, I have consistently been anxious and alarmed by approaching deadlines, impending tests and unfilled summers to a clinical degree. In my sophomore year, I had a full-on panic attack two weeks before an organic chemistry midterm because I genuinely thought there was no conceivable way I could learn all the material in that time. Overdramatic, I know.
Now, I find myself strolling into a prelim that I only started studying for at 4 a.m. that very morning, more concerned about what I’m going to eat afterward than about the exam itself. I feel like it’s important to note that this isn’t meant to be some kind of weird flex or humble-brag either. I sincerely just think that Cornell has completely broken me. I am dead inside. Sure, I still feel the pressure, but at this point, I just don’t have the emotional and mental capacity — or the time, if we’re being frank — to worry about how things are going to go.
That may sound a bit concerning or cynical, but I have actually found it to be quite liberating. Back in my junior year, I shadowed a general physician who practiced in a cozy little office a bit outside of Ithaca. I would drive down to his office every Wednesday, and on more than one occasion would end up venting about the stress and exhaustion that the middle of the week inevitably brings. On one occasion when I was particularly worried about an impending prelim I had the following day, the doctor gave me a valuable piece of advice that I brushed off at the time, but gradually have found to be quite true. Upon seeing me frantically flipping through biochemistry notes during lunch break, he asked, “Do you know what I tell patients who come in complaining about back pain from their manual labor jobs?” Before I could answer, he continued, “I tell them that it’s not always about the load. A lot of times it’s about the way you carry it. I think that applies to life as well.” While that may sound like a cliché, overly cinematic line written into a low-budget movie, it truly holds a lot of weight. If there is one thing I have learned over the past three-and-a-half years of academic misery, it’s that my worrying about a situation has never magically manifested my desired outcome. Not once.
My point is that everyone is stressed about something, all of the time. That is just a universal truth, but it is especially applicable to college students. Torturing yourself by adding worry and anxiety and panic to your preexisting stress is not only masochistic, but it’s also counterproductive. Maybe this is a lesson that everyone learns over time, or maybe it’s just something that comes with the gradual decay of the soul that Cornell so graciously facilitates. Either way, I really do think there is something valuable about not caring so much about outcomes. I’m not advocating for giving up entirely or for not investing any work into your goals. Rather, I’m suggesting that we put our best efforts out into the world and then resign ourselves to our next endeavor. Instead of letting our worries live rent-free in our brains, why not cross those bridges as we get to them?
I guess the perks of being dead inside are allowing yourself the luxury to opt out of unnecessary stress, and letting yourself believe that things will be fine. And even when they end up not being fine, you will work out whatever doesn’t work out.
Faiza Ahmad is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Fifth Column runs every other Wednesday this semester.