Made for a class entitled « Finding your own written voice ».
This morning, like all others, I woke up at 6am. Like all other mornings, I had no reason to do so, if only to get ahead of my schedule as usual. I know what you’ll say: by dint of always waking up early and working to get things done, you should have nothing left to work on. But that’s exactly where the problem is. Each time I end up finishing everything I intended to do, I step a foot out of my comfort zone, adding some more work to my plate.
And now, I even know what you might think: you can’t possibly increase the level of work you do each time you succeed in doing one thing. Truth is, I do. And the thing is, you probably do as well. Here is the daily life of a Sciences Po student, trained to feel guilty as soon as he or she doesn’t find something else to do. The midterms have ended, and I have managed to get good grades? That’s simply mean I should enroll into a double diploma like any other student, otherwise I will remain into my comfort zone and stop flourishing. I did all my presentations for the semester? Great, then I should participate in a new association, I’ll have plenty of time so why not? That’s a mindset.
When do we stop then? Are we machines? Have we been truly made for learning some famous authors’ theories three hours before an exam and vomiting them madly on the paper? Is that our purpose? That’s definitely not mine. We start over and over again and throw ourselves into the unknown every time we feel comfortable. What is wrong with us? That doesn’t seem healthy… Not healthy at all… At some point, there must be a comfort zone in which we choose to stay, otherwise we’re left to a frantic life, without even benefiting from the fruits of our very own efforts.
As we arrived here by competition, we always fear to be less than someone else, or that we have to work twice as much in order to fulfill our dreams. Is it true? Do our chances to accomplish something depend on the risks we take over our own health? I don’t think so. No matter what, we continue to be afraid of staying too long into our comfort zones and accept each opportunity to escape from it. What else could we do; we have always been told that we had no other choice…
Nonetheless, we have, and I can assure you acknowledging that has been very much frightening for me: I’m now worried each time I go through the doors of the library, seeing all those souls typing into their computers as if their lives depended on it, without even turning their heads when a noise emerges from the room. Sometimes, I even feel bad being myself: there’s no way I could be able to focus that much for such a long time. So, I faintly admire at the same time I despise this faculty I see around every corner of that place I frequent even more than my house.
But what worries me the most is our happiness, and to a broader extent our humanity. Those people in this library doesn’t seem to enjoy what they are doing. The only thing they seem to crave for is to escape as far as possible from this room which they too know more than their kitchen’s cupboard. But they don’t. They never escape. They’ve been taught well. Anyway, I don’t think we should – no matter our academic level – suffer to learn something nor to achieve our goals. It shouldn’t be a hardship we must prepare for. Simply because nothing we’ll ever learn will make us more valuable than what is already inside of each and every of us.
Perpetually trespassing our comfort zone is forgetting what we’re worth, but also not being confident enough to see that we have an ocean of qualities accounting for waymore than any knowledge extracted from a book discovered on a dusty shelf. Not to mention that mental breakdowns are a real phenomenon: for instance, according to the National Institute of Mental Health of the United Kingdom, 19% of British people are facing anxiety disorders due to work or school performance. You might think about that the next time you consider skipping that rest you’ve really well-deserved.
Though, I know it as well as you do, people might be tempted to make you believe you should work like a beast and get the best diploma you possibly can. Society makes you feel this way. That’s life. And if you can run away from your comfort zone, you can’t from social norms. Still, you can be conscious about them and the consequences they have on your behavior.
And yet, I’m 19 and sadly having the same obligations as you do, so I also know what I’m saying might seem naïve. I’m not even graduated so what could I possibly grasp about comfort zones? However, I do believe we should cultivate in ourselves what we like instead of always trying to tame what we’re not good at. What could possibly be wrong in specializing ourselves on what we’re found of? It seems essential to me – and especially when it comes to young students like us – to know our comfort zones and where our boundaries are. What is Sciences Po compared to our own safety?
That’s why I’m begging, please let me go back into my comfort zone. That seems easy. In fact, it’s not. I tried. I tried so hard, but my brain is now frightened to stop just for a while. I can’t help myself but working a lot. A lot too much. It’s not totally devoid of meaning: I’ve been reading quotations about the “comfort zone”for years now, and I can’t erase them of my head: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”they said. Now, I’m paying the price for having staid too long in this unbearable situation: I’m an addict. I’m even more stressed when I have nothing to stress for. What a life. Thus, each hour of my timetable is planned and I’m exactly aware of the time I will need for every single task.
But for all I know, I don’t want to think this way any longer. I feel like I need to stay in that long-time-neglected comfort zone and who cares if others want to avoid it at all costs. I have pushed myself so hard since last year that I thought I would get ill at some point. I feared for myself. Crying every single day, feeling not being enough, waiting for every single email as if I needed new opportunities to be valuable or accepted.
At the same time, I feared every new task I’ve been asked to do – which is quite paradoxical -worrying I wouldn’t be able to make it or that I would end up dropping college. I didn’t. But here’s what I know: I will never go back to this state of overworking and overthinking everything. From now on, I refuse to be taught that I should go beyond my comfort zone to be fulfilled.I’m convinced I can work it out without putting myself in danger. If not, it signifies what I was longing for was not made for me. That’s just it. And I will accept it if that’s the case. There’s no way I will tolerate to be as exhausted as I was last year and too bad for me if Columbia or Berkeley doesn’t accept me under those conditions. Those are my conditions. My terms. My vow to start respecting my own self.
Of course, I’m terrified to drop some projects only to focus on what truly moves me. Of course, for the moment, I feel terrible to admit I was not capable of handling such a workload. But hell, I’m proud for putting myself first for once. What’s the point of being involved in this umpteenth association if I’m not even interested and if I’m making everyone else lose their time as I don’t manage to do correctly what I’ve been asked to? To be accepted by a university? No, thanks. It definitely doesn’t worth it.
Being in your comfort zone doesn’t mean you’re not good enough nor that people are more capable than you are. It also doesn’t necessarily mean you have to censor yourself to smaller challenges. It only means you know yourself. That you know your boundaries. And that you cherish them. At least, I do. Thank god I’m healthy and I still own all my brain cells. But it could easily have been different if I had continued to take it all on my shoulders.
That’s why I encourage you to know yours as well. There’s nothing worse than constantly bearing the pressure of something you don’t appreciate. No doubt, anxiety is no way to achieve a “good” performance in any area of your academic or professional life, no matter what you’ve been raised to believe. You don’t have to believe me and anyhow you will probably disagree but still, I must repeat it: no matter what you think, let me stay in my comfort zone. Good for them if some need to excel to evolve, yet, I’m sure I don’t. Life is already stressful enough not to be constantly asked to leave my one and only shelter when things start being too much.
What I need is safety. To be able to assert what situations will endanger my wellbeing. And to assert situations which won’t. Life is about knowing what you’re capable of, and one of the best ways to do so I believe, is to trust things that make you feel good and secure. This is one thing I have learned, and I’ve learned it the hard way. Trust me, you’ll be better off setting appropriate goals to yourself.
Crédits couverture: Tyler Spangler