I played competitive tennis throughout my teenage years. Three hours of practice after school, tournaments on the weekends, all-day camp during summers—the whole deal. But though I loved tennis, I could never get myself to enjoy matches. I hated them, in fact. Every weekend was torture. On Friday night I wouldn’t be able to sleep and on Saturday morning I’d get out of bed with my legs wobbly from the nerves. I’d walk into the court wanting to leave it and leave it wanting to never return. One Friday morning when I was fifteen—getting in some practice time early before school—I lost—badly—to a guy who was highly-ranked in my age group. That afternoon I quit tennis because I realized this fear wasn’t something I was going to get over—and if I wasn’t going to be one of the best then I didn’t want to play at all.
Having quit tennis, I poured everything into school. School had always been the place where I excelled. I was ranked at the top of my class in a competitive high school and had a reputation for being “smart” (which I prided myself on.) I took a challenging course load, but I avoided some of the hardest courses—AP Chemistry, AP Calculus, AP Physics, etc.—because I was scared I wouldn’t excel (and how smart would I be then?) And though I graduated at the top of my class with high SAT scores, I got rejected from Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, MIT, and Vanderbilt.
I ended up at the University of Florida studying computer science. I loved it and couldn’t picture myself doing anything else. My dream now was to end up at one of the big four tech companies. On the surface I believed in myself, but in my head a little voice constantly told me I wasn’t good enough and reminded me of my failures. I got rejected from Facebook and Google, but fortunately this time I pushed on and ended up getting an offer from Amazon.
I’ve come to realize that the periods in my life most riddled in melancholy/depression/existential crises are those in which fear is strong—fear of not being good enough, fear of others discovering I’m an impostor, fear of never reaching my goals, fear of living/dying without ever feeling “fulfilled”… This fear eats at my happiness and motivation, tirelessly nibbles at my will to live and work and succeed, until nothing feels worth doing.
But what I’m also coming to realize is that I have a choice in this.I can choose to wake up early and spend an hour writing, I can choose to be a kinder, more supportive son/brother/boyfriend, and I can choose to find meaning in the daily process and believe that it will all lead somewhere in the end.
I’ve always known fear would be an eternal companion—now I'm learning it doesn’t have to cripple me.