Earlier tonight, I was preparing for my thesis presentation. Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., I’ll attempt to defend an academic paper I spent a whole semester writing. It’s intimidating. I put in the necessary work and I’m expecting a decent outcome, but I’d be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time the voices in my head told me “What if I screw this up…?”
Around this time of year, a lot of us are asking questions like this. What if I fail this test? What if my professor doesn’t like the topic I chose for my paper? What if I don’t pass?
What if? What if? What if?
In all honesty, these what-ifs do more harm than good. We follow what-ifs into ruts of self-doubt, where they suddenly become “I ams.” Before we know it, “what if I get a bad grade?” turns into “I’m a bad student. I’m not smart. I’m not as qualified as others are.”
If you’re like me, final exams (projects… papers… insert stress-causing school assignment here) turn you into a pressure cooker, feeling like you could explode at any moment. You begin to say things like “There’s literally no way I have enough time to get all these things done.” If you’re a planner like me, you schedule out each hour of your day in order to have some hope that maybe it’ll all get finished.
You cram. You attempt to avoid checking Facebook and Twitter (attempt being the key word in that statement). And if you don’t regurgitate all of the facts correctly when that fateful two-hour time slot arrives, you become a self-deprecator. Or maybe, if you perform above expectations, you turn into a pride machine.
Either one is wrong. Because you are not your final exams.
You’re not an A, you’re not an F. You’re not a pass or a fail. You’re a human being, and your worth doesn’t lie in your performance.
Earlier today, I completely crashed. I was having a very productive day, but suddenly I felt like I lost the ability to do anything. I got tired. I took a break, which became an extended break, which led to me writing this blog rather than making progress on any of the big tasks hanging over my head. And I began to feel guilty about it. I was unproductive. I didn’t take advantage of my time. I could’ve managed better.
Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.
I fell into the rut. “Now what if I don’t get everything done? What if I just squandered good grades on my finals?” The great attack of the what-ifs. The one that I know all too well.
But this time, those “what-ifs” won’t become “I ams.” Because I’m more than a measurement of my performance. Tomorrow, when I go in to defend my thesis, I’ll put forth my best effort. I’ll try really hard. I’ll do all that I can to get an A.
But if I don’t get the grade I’m hoping to get, that doesn’t change who I am. The same is true for you. You are not your final exams.
Do the work. Try hard. But do it all knowing that there’s no A, C or F stamped on your life. I’m willing to bet you’re a lot more interesting than the information on your transcript.
Hang in there, people.