Growing up (and even still today) when I'm feeling overworked or overwhelmed, my dad always tells me, "Remember Aaron, pressure makes diamonds." Even though at the time, I may not always want to hear such simplistic and optimistic advice when I'm so busy that I forget to eat, it's true...you can't have the hardest mineral known to man (or the most beautiful stone known to woman) without a ton of pressure. As quite the involved student athlete with a crammed academic schedule, I'd be lying if I said that college was no sweat and that there weren't nights that I questioned my sanity (as illustrated in the picture below from a finals week one year). I may not have emerged a sparkling diamond when I graduated Saint Vincent, but it was those times when I was ready to throw in the towel that truly prepared me for life after college and taught me some important lessons.
Lesson 1: The little things are just that....THINGS!
I'm not talking about class work or finals or having a healthy lifestyle, because all of those are more than just little things. What I am talking about is the bad hair days that everyone has, the stress of paying $500 for books, the stress of not knowing your roommate or being nervous about who you will sit with at lunch. Sure, everyone has a bad day; even Veronica (the ever smiling cafeteria worker who made it a point to learn each and every student's name) had rough days. But remember: it's ok to be stressed; it's ok to be upset or anxious or nervous. The important thing to remember is that you aren't the only one who feels that way.
I will be giving two presentations in front of hundreds of other computer programmers this coming September in Wisconsin. Am I nervous? You better believe it! But the focus that studying at SVC taught me has helped me prepare my presentation far enough in advance. And the ability to ask other people for help that I eventually learned at Saint Vincent has helped me ask my coworkers' opinions of my presentation drafts. Which brings me to my second lesson...
Lesson 2: The only stupid question is the question that you never ask
Yep, I was that kid that walked into the wrong classroom on the first day of the semester at least my first three semesters at Saint Vincent. I was that guy who never listened to my teammates and scheduled with the toughest professors, because c'mon, how hard can the professor really make the class? I was the guy who spent hours in my dorm room banging my head against the wall trying to figure out each week's assignment when I knew (and was even invited to go work with) a group of my classmates who were meeting just down the hall to study together. Everyone needs their alone time, and not everyone is an extravert who can just walk up to anyone and start a conversation off the bat. But know that there are so many people at Saint Vincent who want to see you succeed. That support group will only grow as you continue your journey through college and into the real world. Never be afraid to ask for help, because you never know what life will throw your way.
Lesson 3: No matter how hard you try, you can't predict your future. So try not to lose sleep over it
This may not come as a shock to anyone, but even the most seemingly boring lives are subject to sudden changes. Stressing over whether or not you have selected the right major, or how you are going to have time to study for all three exams that you have this coming week, or how you will manage having to run home for your parent's birthday party with a huge paper due on Monday just isn't worth the anxiety. College is tough, there is no denying that fact. And post collegiate life can throw just as many curveballs. When all else fails, take a deep breath, step back from the moment, and re-visit lessons 1 and 2.
Lesson 4: Never stop trying
One of my favorite quotes is from runner Steve Prefontaine, who boldly exclaimed: "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." It is easy to feel down about yourself when the pressure is on and things might not be going the way that you had planned. My freshman year, I did not run a fast enough time trial join as a member of the cross country team. If I would've given up there, my entire life would have changed. But I didn't give up and retried the time trial a few weeks later and made the team. Did I go on to become the fastest runner that Saint Vincent has ever seen? Not even in the slightest. I only ran varsity two or three races my entire four year cross country career. But did I become a member of the first SVC athletic team to bring home a PAC trophy? And did I join a team that has become my family with whom I still keep in touch today? I sure did.
My junior year, I had a packed schedule and wasn't able to keep my grades where I wanted them to be. I thought long and hard about changing my major to find a less stressful road to graduation. But I didn't give up; I kept my nose to the grindstone and stuck with my major. Did I go on to become to become the smartest student to ever attend Saint Vincent? Hardly. I actually ended up getting a C- in one of my major core classes. But did it teach me how to stay focused and how to prioritize my time? It sure did.
College can be a stressful time, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Remember, no matter how stressed you may feel, there will always be people behind you, cheering you on. You just might not see them until after the stress clears.