By Priti Devaprakash
Insecurity has always been a major component of my personality. I also possess those two traits that often go hand in hand with extreme shyness: a low self-esteem and a high level of self doubt. Over time, the combination of these traits has led to a deep-seeded fear of failure which is no longer only a part of my personality, but also my identity.
My story starts in the winter of the 2014-2015 academic year. My first midterm was for Organic Chemistry 51B — a class hated almost universally by all of my fellow Bio majors. I studied day and night for the majority of the week in preparation for the exam, which happened to be 25% of my grade.
About a week after taking the exam, I received an e-mail: scores were out! I earned a total score of 20%. Detrimental thoughts began racing wildly through my brain. The sense of losing control was debilitating and was unlike any emotion I had ever felt before.
A specific type of fear was setting in: fear of losing identity. What was I? I was a nobody. I was nothing — useless beyond redemption. I, the person defined by a fear of failure so great I had tried to ensure it would never happen to me. But happen it did, taking all that was left of my identity with it. And so began a downward spiral of doubt, darkness and depression that just wouldn’t be defeated.
I always tried to be the strong one. I was the one who tried to help my father when my mother was suffering from severe depression and psychosis, who tried to be strong for my parents when my twin brother descended into the dark depths of drug addiction. I was the one who had it together until I didn’t have it together at all.
After finishing off the year in a haze of academic counseling, I spent the first 5 weeks of the summer trying to unwind at home and making a conscious effort to put the past behind me and not think too much about school. But the memories of my disastrous second year wouldn’t stop haunting me.
I had countless conversations with my parents expressing my fear of the future and lack of interest in school, most of which would end in tears of frustration and uncertainty. Despair and discouragement consumed me. There was no motivation or drive for me to do anything and I resigned to sitting alone on the couch or outside on the grass in a hopeless stupor. Even dragging myself out of bed in the morning seemed to be a Herculean task.
I thought about my brother who had dropped out of school on account of his addiction issues, and of the hopes and dreams that my parents held for us. Was I going to go down the same road?
No, I thought. This is not who I am. I am better than this. I have to be strong not only for myself but for my family as well.
From then on, I was filled with the desire to be a support and a comfort to my parents who were already struggling with one child who had gone astray. I wanted to be an inspiration to my brother to show him that there was a life out there somewhere for him no matter how bleak the future might have seem.
Failure is not final. Discouragement and depression do not mean defeat. It was this subtle change in focus from myself to the people around me that helped me to climb out of the hole I had fallen into both emotionally and academically. At last there seemed to be some inkling of a purpose and direction on the horizon.
“This would be the year,” I thought.
The year that I would set the record straight and prove to myself that I could do this — I could succeed in this major. And yet, something just didn’t feel right. Every class seemed dull and boring. My head was telling me that this was the thing to do, to stay in this major and stick it out. But my heart knew better.
A few weeks ago, as I was packing my bags to leave the classroom, I suddenly asked myself: “What are you truly good at?” And the answer came back: “English.”
I remembered the excitement from when my mother used to read Dickens and Oscar Wilde to my brother and I when we were children; the joy and freedom I had felt when writing essays in high school; the last two weeks of summer in which I read JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series for the third time. It was the first time since last winter that I had felt a positive emotion with regards to something. I realized then that I was meant to be an English major.
Suddenly, my days seemed brighter, my heart seemed lighter, and the fear that once ruled me seemed to have been replaced with a sense of wholeness, peace and fulfillment. There was no need to prove anything to anyone, no need to try to convince myself and others of my own ability as a science major. I felt liberated.
And as the words of Albus Dumbledore telling Harry that “it is our choices (…) far more than our abilities that show who we truly are” leapt off the page in front of my eyes, I knew he was right. I made the right choice.