My roommate told me at 3 a.m. that I suffer from “unchecked ambition” – an all-consuming, anxiety-ridden apprehension of the inevitable future, causing one to suffer from residual self-deprecation. It’s like some sort of personality imbalance where I’m very persistent and hard-working on the one hand, but then become so self-critical it is literally crippling, to the point of stifling any empowering sense of purpose.
I was pulling one of my infamous all-nighters to complete a rough cut of my latest documentary film, and the panic was palpable. Sounding like a broken record, I said I was completely unfulfilled and my film didn’t meet my standards and expectations; none of it was good enough, and nothing I had done, ever, would amount to be.
I wish I had realized sooner that this type of thinking was damaging. Why is it that I had to sit through, run through, panic through, yell through and pull my hair through nearly five years of college – thank you, tuition inflation – only to truly realize during a caffeine-induced, sleep-deprived bender on the cusp of an overcast dawn, less than three weeks to graduating, that I’m actually going to become the woman I’ve always sought to be?
This is not to say that the projects, efforts and energy one expends during college are worthless or unimportant, nor does it mean that self-reflection and modesty should be thrown out the window. It is important to be honest with yourself, and to admit, sometimes painfully, that you could have done a better job.
But what’s even more important is to not let that admission become the focal point from which you lose all hope and confidence in yourself. It’s more than saying you simply learn from your experiences, because that is an oversimplification. Truly, it’s hard to both lead yourself into the darkness and follow that path at the same time. If you trip – and believe me, you will – recognize there is merit in resilience, and never submit to your despair.
It’s only fitting that I am sitting in the Collegian newsroom as I write this final column, surrounded by the night’s desk editors, copy editing my last newspaper, lamenting my tenure as a multimedia producer. The ceiling is leaking, the desks are filthy, and it’s cold, dark and damp, much like a cave. But there is also laughter, music, numerous breaks out on the loading dock and the professional perseverance of the entire staff to come together and create a newspaper, every day of the week.
Come to think of it, those breaks out on the loading dock created some of the most intimately shared moments of my entire college experience. We weren’t just out there standing by UMass waste bins, flicking our cigarettes and debating an ethical call or laughing about almost getting kicked out of Karl Rove’s speech; some of the most important personal conversations and friendships have been fostered between those cinder block walls.
I never intended to be here in the first place – not just the Collegian but UMass altogether. I do not intend to promptly leave the Pioneer Valley, even as many graduates and friends will be heading either back to their hometowns, or on to the bigger, brighter metro areas with arguably better job prospects.
I will miss them deeply. I now tilt my head back and laugh at the idea that all I have at the end of all this is a bloody liberal arts degree and my entire dysfunctional family coming together to celebrate it.
But you know what? It is worth celebrating.
All five years of academic hurdling, the films edited, the newspapers written, the radio played, the waitressing, the bike accidents, the blizzards, the cats, the doughnuts, the cancer, the bills, the evictions, the chronic illness, the hair dye, the addictions, the estrangement, the rooftops, the driving, the drive-thrus, the topsoil broken, the advances, the promises, the opening of dusty windows and items thrown over balconies. It is all worth celebrating, and I will not submit any longer to unchecked ambition. I am the river and the levee; this is the true pain and pleasure of life.
Emily Felder was the Senior News Producer of DailyCollegian.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.