One of the biggest fears I have is that I’m not going to be a writer. It has always been, to quote Morgan Freeman in "The Shawshank Redemption," my s***ty pipe dream—the one thing I’ve always wanted to try but never quite rustled up enough courage to do. Yours might be playing soft rock songs in front of a crowd of crying men, saving lives in the emergency room or reading people’s fortunes. Whatever it is, all s***ty pipe dreams have something in common—they’re not supposed to happen. They’re just supposed to be fodder for daydreams as you drive to work, preparing for the crippling institutionalization of a typical office day.

And then I came to Duke. I started to write more often, and with more intensity. I read books written by obscure authors, assigned by professors who loved writing. I found that I saw the world in moments and stories that might be remembered and retold. The s***ty pipe dream became a tentatively open avenue. I could write for The Chronicle, submit short stories to magazines, apply for MFA programs. I could be a writer, if I wanted to. The realization of all that possibility stunned me, like the first time I saw the grandiose and utterly ridiculous silhouette of the Duke Chapel in person. Once inconceivable—it was now real.

Now, I think of writing and I am ambitious. What does this mean? Ambition means that I feel, some days, as if there is an intangible voice, whispering the words of books I might one day write—but I still can’t hear the words. I believe that I will write books that people will be published and read—because why ever not? I go to Duke. I have the resources. Am I not chosen? Am I not special? Some days I panic, feeling pressure descend because, after all, this is my dream, the one that I must chase until I have either succeeded or failed. The clock is ticking, and I have not nearly submitted enough short stories to independent magazines, I have not begun writing my first novel. I believe I will succeed, but I am afraid that I will fail.

And that’s when I hate wanting to be a writer. Not only does it give me an attitude of annoying entitlement, it is this very ambition that makes me horribly, decidedly unhappy.

There is a curious phenomenon at Duke, and likely other similar institutions, where high self-belief is juxtaposed with a low self-esteem. After all, attaining a spot at Duke requires a great deal of hard work, sacrifice, but most of all, a belief that ultimately we will get that creamy acceptance letter. We are the special ones, and our school does a fantastic job of continuing this narrative. We’re told we are among the best, deserve the best, and should shoot for the best. Anything less than the absolute point of achievement makes us feel inadequate.

I tell myself I might fail as a writer—but do I really believe that? Despite the competitiveness of the job, the slim chance and the amateur nature of my prose, my arrogance does not allow me to really, truly believe that I might never publish anything at all. And if I do not write, my failure to strive for my dreams perpetuates a morose sense of inadequacy. Ambition to me means a state of discontent and dissatisfaction, when the disconnect between expectation and reality causes such discontent that we want better.

This is good, usually. It is good to know when our situations need to change because we are not satisfied with the way we’ve been living. I still believe having dreams and the self-belief to pursue them is an exquisite part of being human. It gives meaning to the meaningless routines. It makes days brim with importance. I just don’t want to it to be fuelled by the fear of not fulfilling my potential or tied to heightened ambitions that make me unhappy.

After all these years, have all we learnt is that we must achieve our greatest potential to have served ourselves well? What happens if we cannot?

Because the truth is, we aren’t special. We may have gone to Duke, but the world is still going to throw obstacles that hurt us deeply some day. We may burn like stars and reach that elusive final point and the s***ty pipe dream is real life. Or more likely, we will have to confront the moderation of that dream and the pursuit of some other path. It is just as brave to concede failure as to fight on for a vision. It is just as brave to work at a corporate job to pay your father’s medical bills as to become the artist who paints illegally on the streets. We have been taught that our dreams must be chased, or else we are doing it wrong… but it okay to let them go too.

I’m afraid that I will never be a writer, and if it does not happen, then so be it. The days will go on afterwards, as will yours. There will be more s***ty pipe dreams, and we’ll try again.

Isabella Kwai is a Trinity junior. This is her first column of the semester.