Being Noah Tesfaye #6: Stress and Anxiety

I don’t think necessarily that stress and anxiety are bad things. In fact, those are the two key motivating factors in my life. In the many situations that I live through, whether it may be at school, at home, or volunteering, I cannot survive without there being some sort of pressure I put onto myself to get anything done. That’s why I accomplish what I set out to do. But on the other hand, it is the very reason why my life gets extremely miserable. Allow me to explain.

I would love to start with the classic example when, as many of my hardworking friends know, adults ask you “Why are you working so hard?” or “Why are you so stressed?” I would like to first ask the question of “Do you know what I need to get into a great university?” Most of my friends, and those that have origins outside the US in particular, can agree with me when I tell you why aren’t you working as hard as you possibly can? We live in the greatest country in the world, where for the most part, as long as you work truly as hard as you can, you can accomplish anything you set your mind out to accomplish. The stress for most of us doesn’t necessarily come from the fact that we are afraid of what our parents or peers think, although I do believe that is a factor in our ever-mounting stress. For many of us, or at least for me personally, the stress comes from the fact that we don’t take the opportunity we have because we can’t really make mistakes. I know as a black student that any mistake that some students may be able to overcome I may never be able to. One wrong interaction with a police officer, teacher, principal, or any adult could lead to my reputation to being scarred forever. I am so stressed because I always watch my back.

On the mention of an opportunity, I know many students who have strict parents deal with the crushing mention from their family that they aren’t doing enough. They always have to work harder and always get more than a 4.0. While I think all of that is rooted in very justifiable reasons, I do think that doesn’t necessarily help in the stress that students deal with. On top of the mounting homework students deal with at school, their peers discussing how they “only” got an A instead of an A+ on a test, they have to go back home to a parent or parents that are getting after them for their test scores.

I fall on almost the complete other side of that spectrum. I don’t care, politely, about how other students or friends do on tests, papers, or frankly anything. My parents do not get after me on anything I do in school. Everything I do is motivated by what I want to do. And in many ways, that’s how students can pursue careers that they want, not necessarily what their family or teachers or friends want them to pursue. But in many ways, the stress and anxiety builds even more when you are put in a position when you are, for lack of a better term, doing it on your own. Your friends can be with you to support you and your family may want to give you a break, but the way students feel when their actions are solely motivated by themselves places an immense amount of stress on students.

The easy solution many adults claim then is that you don’t have to work that hard and you should lower your expectations. You can go to an ok school and then get an ok job, and be happy. But I know that many students like me have such strong aspirations such that we will never sacrifice the opportunity we have in America. Most of us have school as the only pathway to the career of our dreams. The second thing that some adults will say is that you should relax. And while that in some cases that may be true, school for most of us is a 24–7 curriculum. We have the extracurriculars, the newspapers, the debate teams, and everything else in between to get done because we know that’s what we need to build to where we want to be in ten years. There is almost no time in our days to relax. And when we do take a break for our sanity, we beat ourselves up because we could be working on more SAT problems or reading the next chapter in the bio textbook to get ahead.

To cope with the ever-mounting stress that students experience, my school decided to impose a homework policy. This was designed to cap homework for at 45 minutes for honors and regular classes, and an hour for APs. For me, that would amount to about six hours of homework a night. The unfortunate part of this is that most of these courses require much more homework to do well and this policy doesn’t take into account long-term projects and test review. This results in students staying up until at least 11–12 every single night, and especially for those with sports and other long activities after school, going to bed at 2 AM routinely. And in a few hours, you have an essay due or a major test.

So school isn’t really going to change. I don’t frankly expect it to ever change with the expectations and stress isn’t going away there either. Now is usually when I pose a solution to an issue that I’ve highlighted earlier in the post, but at this point, I have no clear idea on what we could do. The first thing I would suggest is turn our phones off, and while I think that could work, I don’t know any student who doesn’t communicate with their classmates at least sometimes with their phone to get work done. So maybe the second solution I would propose is to create a schedule for the time you have to do work for classes. I’ve tried this, and it works only sometimes. With all the changing factors in our lives, a single extra assignment throws the schedule off completely, and then I can’t concentrate because I beat myself up for not staying on the schedule.

What can we do then? Honestly, like I already said, I don’t know. But I know something we can’t do. We can’t sit on our failures. A bad test, a mediocre essay grade, a late assignment is bad only in the short-term. The true definition of how great of students we are is not merely just how we do initially, but how we can rebound from the moments that force us to re-evaluate our methods. And perhaps the one thing I can’t do is to give up. I’ve spent hours, days, and even weeks dwelling on how I could have done this, how I could have taken a different class, or how I didn’t work as hard as I could have. But that hurts you know. Why think about your failure in the short term and how it affects you in the long-term when you can think about how you can make this moment and this day the best you can?

I empathize with my classmates who are always frustrated with what grade they got on a project, and I feel the same way. But there is only one true thing we can control: our effort. We can’t change how a teacher grades most of the time, or how hard the SAT will be, but we can change how we prepare, how hard we work to be as prepared as possible for anything. So I’m asking you to just work as hard as YOU can. Don’t focus on anything else. Think about how you can work as hard as you can just today. Tomorrow, think about how you can make that day the best possible because regret is the worst feeling in the world. If we work as hard as we can, we won’t ever feel regret because at least we know we did as much as we could at that moment.

Finals are next week and I’m evaluating how hard I’ve work this semester. Do I feel regret for some situations? Sure I do. But I don’t get upset at the grade I got on an assignment ever. I get upset at the fact that I didn’t work as hard as I could have to get a grade I was proud of. I don’t think we as students should dwell on everything externally because what’s the damn point? That is a waste of your energy and mine and it’s unproductive. So to my friends, as we embark on finals net week, I ask of you to not evaluate on what grades you could have made better, but rather evaluate how you didn’t work as hard as you could have, and prepare to work even harder next semester. I would say good luck, but those aren’t the right words. Work hard and be as prepared as you can. You have control over you and there’s no real luck involved there. Just work as hard as you can. That’s something to be proud of. Be thankful that we’re lucky to get this opportunity. Let’s win this week and I’m wishing you all happy studying, even though I should get back to that right now… Thanks for reading and catch you all next week.

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