This year, I quit. I quit something intentionally, I quit something I was immersed in for three years and most glaringly, I quit after losing.
I quit student politics.
You’re 7 and you’re told not to quit swimming lessons. You’re 13 and you’re told not to quit sports. You’re 18 and you’re told not to quit on education. You’re told never to stop fighting.
I was 21 when I learnt that its okay to quit something that makes you so unbelievably different that you don’t recognize yourself anymore. Its okay to quit something that makes your insides squirm with anxiety and discomfort.
Early this year, I had a panic attack in my room. I couldn’t breathe, I was crying uncontrollably and I felt like I had lost all control of my body. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t figure out why. This was the worst experience I’ve ever had. I called my best friend and she helped me get through it and I woke up the next day knowing full well that I never wanted to feel that way ever again and I will never, ever, ever wish it on someone else.
The election stress only added to previous, existing stress. I was chasing something without knowing it. I was chasing perfection. I wanted to do it all and I wanted to do it with apparent ease. I was setting myself up for failure. I had a serving job, I had a full course load, I lead a student group and a poverty fundraising campaign, I was a World W.I.S.E Ambassador and I was competing in this strangely vile and toxic election while looking out for a whole team of candidates and volunteers. Maybe it was because I was juggling too many things but student politics was the only thing that I felt was unnecessary evil.
This picture shows one of the happiest moments of the election. What isn’t captured
is that a few weeks before this was taken, I was alone trying to digest betrayal. Or that a few hours from this I was crying, squatting near a table so no one could see. For a total of 30 seconds before I forced myself to get up, force a smile and move on. All along, fully aware that someone reveled in the joy of destroying me (us). And this isn’t just me. Ask those who won student elections, ask those who lost. Everyone has felt extreme anxiety and/or depression. I refuse to believe that this is “politics” and it comes with an overwhelming amount of malice, because if it is, we are inadvertently shaping what leadership means to us.
Maybe I got lucky this time because while I quit this, something of a magnitude incomparable came along and I jumped. I moved to Tanzania to help start and scale a social business. I felt with unwavering conviction that this is where my beliefs are rooted, this is what I remember 13-year-old me dreaming of, this is what I will eventually look back on and talk for hours about in a retirement home.
I was talking to a friend yesterday and he asked me how I liked it here. I wish I had recorded myself. Because after a long time, I am happy, unbounded and untethered, I am happy. I am in love and loved, I am working to help those around me better themselves and most of all, I’m doing what I love and magically, I haven’t felt the tiniest pinch of stress or anxiety.
I didn’t quit leadership. I will always strive to rise above a status quo, fight for those who need a voice and most importantly strive to help others succeed. But I quit ruthlessness, stress and anxiety and I quit spending time alone trying to conquer these monsters by myself because it’s a sign of weakness to be affected.
I know what its like to have people recognize your weakness and work with the sole purpose of hurting you. Dont get me wrong, I was part of the problem too. I (we) fought fire with fire and playing the game is an intoxicating feeling. But we were always playing with double edged swords. Either way, you leave hurt. But this is what I don’t want anymore. I hope I can always come back to this defining experience and think about every action of mine before I act. If I can come home and call someone to tell them about my day and not have a thing to say about hurting someone else intentionally, I might just be doing this right.
Most importantly, with this blog, I want to shine light on how its okay to feel stressed while chasing something important to you. Dont compare yourself to how others are dealing or how others seem to excel without being perturbed and with apparent ease. Maybe stress and anxiety is part of the package of whatever it is you are chasing but don’t be embarrassed by it. Talk about it, let yourself feel it to the fullest extent and have a coping mechanism to help you through it. But if its taking over your life, its okay to not be okay with it and to quit.
Wrap layers upon layers of positivity around you and be comforted. I had an incredible team, a flawless support system and I left with so many friendships I still cherish.
Be kind to yourself and don’t hold yourself to impossible standards. And if you can, if I may so kindly and naively ask, do your best not to hurt. To quote Louis C.K, “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”