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It’s easy to be scared

Like many people I have a bucket list. It’s really nothing fancy. In fact, it’s more of a vague recollection of all the things that has ever piqued my interest over the last nineteen years of my life. Despite that, it’s still something that I can look back to and go, “Oh yeah, I’ve always wanted to do that!” My list keeps on getting longer, and longer, and longer. And yet, very little has actually been checked off from it.

I have never been one to step outside of my comfort zone. Sure, I fantasized about what I would do if I checked all the boxes off my bucket list, but it wasn’t too often that I decided to complete one of the things on my list. I was simply too scared. I’m lucky that I’m not the only one in this. Thirty-one percent of adults suffer from a fear of failure which prevents them from trying new things. College students can especially relate. It’s a new environment with new rules and new expectations and where everything feels like it weighs more. It’s kind of a given that students will be pushed far beyond what they’re used to. 

For years, when I thought about going to college, it was always with the assumption that I would go to some school within the United States. Maybe NYU, maybe Duke, but never would I have ever imagined that I would find myself going to college internationally. Like many people, I knew that I wanted to go abroad for maybe a semester, but never for the entirety of my college career. Yet here I am: a student at Duke Kunshan University (located in Kunshan, China), studying in Barcelona, Spain for the fall. Even weeks into the semester, it’s a reality that still hasn’t fully hit me. 

I’ve spent a week travelling back and forth to the IES Abroad building on the metro (another new experience); wandering around Barcelona; and living with people vastly different from me. In different ways, these are all things that I’m scared of. In fact – I’m petrified of all the little things that could possibly go wrong, even if I haven’t thought of them yet. This isn’t anything new; I’ve always been cautious of the world around me. 

Before leaving for college, I spent all my time in my room; partially to avoid the things that made my anxiety levels spike. I like to watch HGTV where I know the possibility of anything scaring me is low. If I watch a movie, it’ll most likely be one I’ve already seen a million times before (my favorite late night viewings are Thor: Ragnarök, or any of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies). When I submitted my deposit to Duke Kunshan University, I was petrified. The farthest I’ve ever gone was to Canada, and that’s just Canada, you know? How was I ever going to be able to handle anywhere further than that?

But I’m here. I’m here, in Barcelona, as terrified as I have ever been. 

Sometimes, despite your fears you just have to do it. Whatever it is, you just have to show up and do what you have to do, or do what feels right, to the best of your ability. As cliché as it sounds, by doing so you open yourself up to a whole new world of opportunities. I never would have been given a chance to be in another city in another country if I hadn’t chosen Duke Kunshan; and I never would have had the opportunity to study in China if I hadn’t decided to apply to Duke University. 

These things only apply to me, but there are a million more scenarios that can be applied to a million more people. What will your life be like if you allow yourself to choose one of them despite your fears? Where will you go? What will you miss out on if you don’t push through? A lot of life is what we make of it, so go do the thing that scares you the most. Learn about yourself, learn something new. If nothing else, maybe you’ll get a new skill out of it.

All of this isn’t to say, of course, that you should risk your mental and physical health to put yourself out there. Me reading a poem in front of a crowd full of people I barely know is not the same as me deciding to swim with sharks when I have a fear of water and tight spaces. Be smart and be safe, but push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Don't worry about everyone else, focus on your own goals. What do you have to do to achieve them? Go out and do it. I’m rooting for you. Maybe we can cross something off our lists together.

Sydney Brown is a first-year student at Duke Kunshan University. Her column runs on alternate Fridays.

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