The idea of “encore anxiety” is a very interesting topic to me, primarily because I feel as though I, along with many others, have had firsthand experience with it.
When I was growing up, I was the middle of three children. Before me was my beautiful, elegant and artistically gifted sister. After me came my charismatic, athletic, and funny brother. I wouldn’t say there was anything wrong with me but I was chubby and shy; however, I was more academically focused than my siblings. Academia is highly praised in our family, and when I was somewhere around the 4th or the 5th grade my dad came up with the title of: “The Brain of the Family.” The title went to me. Looking back on it, I think it was a way for my parents to validate my talents and achievements so I didn’t feel bad about my lack of a sports trophy or a framed painting. But, from then on out, my academics became my everything. I wanted so badly to keep being the “Brain”, to have a talent, but most importantly to continue to impress my parents. I decided that I would do what I didn’t think my sister and brother would be able to do: I would help my parents pay for my education. I would get myself a scholarship.
For years after I was excessively involved in extra-curricula’s and my schoolwork. At one point in high school I was juggling 3 AP courses, the presidency of an environmental club, I was in track and field, drama, choir, I was the anchor for the morning announcements, and I was running for VP of student government. I slept an average of 3 hours a night and lived on a stress-high. I was dead-set.
I remember the day the news came because it was so much sooner than I had expected it to. Early into second semester of my junior year, long before I even knew what school I was going to attend, I received a letter letting me know that based on my PSAT scores I would be receiving a $19,000 scholarship a year for fours years of higher education. Naturally I was elated; my parents were thrilled about the news so we went out that night to celebrate with dinner. That night I pulled the covers off my bed and fell asleep on cloud nine.
The next day at school was equally blissful- I told my teachers and friends the good news and spent the day feeling like a champion. Slowly though, day by day, for the weeks that followed I became less and less enthused and more and more anxious. I couldn’t stop thinking: “Now what?” I had been talking and dreaming about telling my parents the good news for so many years that now that the moment had come and gone and I had no “next step” plan. “This wasn’t supposed to happen yet”- I panicked. I wasn’t very good at track and I wasn’t the lead in the play, and I highly doubted anyone cared about the morning announcements. I had finally managed to convince myself that my next great goal would be getting in to a really good school… and then I lost the VP vote.
I was devastated afterwards; I was moody and anxious, tense and aggressive. I felt as though I had built an incredibly high standard of involvement and excellence for myself that my parents now expected of me. I felt as though I needed to continue to be the “brain” to them or I was nothing. In my head, high school was the last place I’d be able to impress them since I would soon be just another college student in the sea of mediocrity and 300-person classes. I was plagued by the question: “What’s next?” There was a ticker somewhere in my mind and the notion that my pinnacle of academic success had come and gone was the top story.
After some time my parents noticed my changed mood. Their once ambitious, dedicated bookworm was now a moody, anxious recluse. I only began the slow relief from my anxiety only when they took me aside and explained to me that their love and admiration didn’t come from me having achieved my goal. They told me that they were proud of me for having goals and having the determination to fight for them, and that even if I didn’t get a scholarship they’d love me just the same. More importantly though, they reminded me that I had become successful not because I completed a certain set of steps, but because I was a hard-worker. I didn’t get what I wanted when I wanted it because good things come to those who work earnestly and passionately, and that if I stayed that way in all areas of my life I would find goodness. It took a few years after that for me to believe them, but thankful their words were timeless.
I owe a lot to my parents for what they told me, because I don’t look at my life in peaks and valleys anymore- or I at least try not to. I try to think of my successes and failures as though my life is a maze. One blocked road does not a failure make, and a fair stretch of progress is just that: progress. There is always more progress to be made until the day I reach the other side and it’s up to me to keep looking forward with a fixed determination to make the best of it all.