Scaring myself into success

Anna Duszkiewicz

College. It appeared before me as a towering giant.

During high school, well-meaning teachers used their scare tactics to motivate us: “You won’t get away with this in college” or “You need to know this if you ever want to succeed in college” or “You’re never going to make it through college alive, so don’t even try. Muahaha.”

OK, so I made the last one up. But that’s how I felt. College was impending doom – the Goliath ahead. It didn’t help that I knew so many people who didn’t make it. My best friend’s sister dropped out before finishing her first semester. My brother dropped out after two years. The single mother of three I babysit for dropped out. Most of the guys I worked with at my first job at a pizza shop were also college dropouts. I was doomed to fail.

The fateful fall semester came, and I overprepared for everything. I became a fanatical note taker, hanging onto the professor’s every word. I developed a slight obsession with highlighters. My planner became a friend I could not live without. I kept thinking, “If I don’t make it, at least I’ll go down having given my best.”

I got an A on my first test of the semester, but that didn’t mean anything. I got another A. It will only get harder, I thought. It wasn’t until I finished the semester on the Dean’s List that I loosened up long enough to think, “Huh, maybe this college thing isn’t as bad as everyone says.”

Still, with every semester I feel like it’s going to be harder than it was before, so I still study as if I am going to fail. Perhaps this is not psychologically healthy, but it works for me. Once I get a handle on my classes, I loosen up – but not enough to let my grades slip.

College is not easy. It is much different from high school – not necessarily much harder, but it’s much different. In many of the big classes, no one is going to care if you show up late, or if you don’t show up at all. You can skip class, smoke on campus and talk during a lecture without getting in trouble. If that’s why you’re going to school, have at it.

But do realize that in college, you make your own success. No one is going to take you by the hand and walk you across the stage. It is up to you to realize that while, yes, you have much more freedom, it is important to do the things you had to do in high school — pay attention, show up, take notes — for your own good.

The lady I babysit for is back in school. My brother also went back and is set to graduate in December. Circumstances differ. Some people are forced to drop out. Some want to. I see now that a lot of college dropouts end up going back to school, usually once they realize life isn’t all that pretty when they’re working a dead-end job with not-so-good pay. I didn’t know that when I started college, and it’s probably better that I did not. It may sound unhealthy that I initially scared myself into the 3.8 I maintain today, but I think a little fear can be healthy.

Contact features editor Anna Duszkiewicz at [email protected].