Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed and want to escape the concrete box I call my room, I stop working and cross the street to Weeks Bridge.
The cool breeze is refreshing. The vast open space above the Charles provides a sense of clarity. I am on a bridge. I can choose to wander or to stay in that exact spot. Either way, the river beneath me will continue to chug along. Standing in the middle of that bridge, I realize that I am afraid of failure.
It is something I have always been afraid of, something that will probably always haunt me.
What can I do better?
Will this be enough?
Am I enough?
I recall Jay Gatsby. I remember how I do not want my ambition to consume me. There is a fine line that I sometimes do not know where to draw. I want the green light of desire and hope to guide me, but not to be the only source leading me in my tunnel of darkness.
At Harvard it is easy to compare, easy to see everyone’s strengths. It is easy to fill up time with your strengths. It can be easy to hide weaknesses, to come off as nearly flawless. We want to be the floating ducks peacefully drifting down the river, though underneath the surface, our little webbed feet are kicking hard, just to control ourselves from the strong water currents. In my two main circles of friends, I am close enough to look past the groups of feathers and webbed feet to actually see how they travel down the river.
Like a set of rowers on the Charles, the first is determined, focused, and serious. They do not go out on the weekends, rather, they stay in and study. They want the flawless transcript. They see the shining GPA as the set of oars to propel them to the med or law school of their dreams. Row after row, they do not dare lift their heads and risk distraction; they are always working towards their set finish line. They have an internal coxswain screaming out orders; they define themselves by their tasks and constantly remind themselves of their desired end points. Sitting in their boat, I cannot keep up with their rhythm. I feel too much like a machine when I define myself by test scores and grades on papers or p-sets to get where I want to be. I still want to lift up my head and see the world passing by me as I move along.
The second tends to float like fresh fall leaves on a pool of water. They let the currents take them, making adjustments only when they have to. Their movements do not define them; they do what pleases them at every moment. Ruled by passion and bliss, they take things one wave at a time. It’s the thrill of the spiraling downfall, the whirl of excitement that pleases them and distracts them from the unknown. They surround themselves with others so they do not have to travel through this part of the journey alone. Their heads are almost always up looking towards the shore rather than back to predict where they are going.
I cannot be a leaf. I am too afraid of water splashing over me and causing to me to sink. My arms and mind get tired too easily to be a rower. Maybe that’s why I do not want to be in a river at all but rather farther down in the open ocean. In the ocean, there still are currents, but there are more directions to travel. On my surfboard, I can choose which waves to catch. The breaks in-between each set allow me to catch my breath, to let me lift my head and see the horizon beyond me. I can see the green light from the lighthouse, but can chose which waves to ride to guide me there. Catching a wave only to fall off and tumble beneath the sea reminds me that I am alive, that I am breathing and awake. I know I can learn from my failures and that risk is necessary for reward. I can balance my heavy head. I can rest my tired arms.
But I am not in the ocean. I am on a bridge in the middle of the Charles River. The bridge is my break, clarity, and viewpoint beyond the tunnel vision normally seen closer down along the river or inside my room. My friends are more than a sets of rowers and piles of fall leaves. I turn my head and look back towards Cowperthwaite Street and start to walk back. I am coming. I will not fight the current but will do my best to not let it overtake me.
Karaghen Hudson ‘18 lives in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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