Through the Fire

Every once in a while in life we endure a period of time that challenges our resolve. The turbulence may last a day, a week, or a month. During this time we might face one obstacle or a hundred.

February was that time for me.

Last month was a perfect storm (pun definitely intended) of stress, bad news and adversity that came to a head all at once. I knew far in advance that this stretch of time would be a challenge – the second semester of business school is no walk in the park, whether it’s looking for an internship, managing a full course load, or working on a semester-long consulting project with unfamiliar team members. On the surface, it would seem like there is no time for the unexpected with such a busy schedule. However, many unforeseen challenges cropped up, one after another, that led me to the brink of a meltdown.

Originally I had written this post in the form of a rant – laying out there all the things that stressed me out, got me down, and made me angry. Then I deleted it. All of it. All that was left was the first paragraph. I read what I wrote over and over again, dissatisfied. I kept asking myself, what’s the point? I’m not comfortable complaining, and to rant incessantly felt like complaining. So instead, I have decided to write about how the stress affected me, rather than what led to the stress itself.

To be honest, I’m not thrilled with how I dealt with the challenges I faced last month. I started out handling them well, even going so far as to laugh at my misfortune.

Oh, you have an interview in New York on Friday? Here’s a blizzard.

Weatherman predicts 10 inches of snow? Here’s 18 instead.

You have a test today? Why don’t you enter Fulton Hall through the trash room – after all the front is blocked off, and no, we didn’t send you an email beforehand.

Smiling and making a joke out of a difficult situation only got me so far. Soon, my exasperation and dark humor crossed over to anxiety and insomnia. I could feel myself physically deteriorating under the incessant stress. Heartburn became an unwelcome guest after each meal. My nerves were frayed. I was tired. I was weak. I was miserable.

There were times where I wondered how long this could keep going. I kept thinking to myself, this can’t be what life is about. Life can’t just be struggling each and every day against a tidal wave of adversity. I knew it could be worse. It can always be worse, which made me even more frustrated. Is life just something you are supposed to endure on a daily basis until you die?

I wondered if my string of bad luck and stress would ever turn around. I wondered if it would ever stop snowing. I knew spring break was coming, but it seemed so far away. There was so much that had to be done still – presentations, finals, accepting or rejecting my internship offer in New York – before I could relax, before I could take a deep breath, hold it in as long as possible, and exhale.

But it passed. Somehow, after much praying and pleading and complaining out loud to anyone within earshot, it passed.

As I write this from the comfort of spring break, I see this period of time in its proper context. Perspective has returned, although it took many emotional bumps and bruises to get there. Physically I feel almost back to normal, which is to say, as normal as I can be given that nothing about my muscles is “normal”. As for the sequence of events that led to a near mental breakdown – some events were predictable (finals, bad weather), and others were completely unexpected (a sudden death of a close family friend). There were warning signs that I ignored that could have led me to make more rational decisions. I could have relaxed more. I could have taken more time to put things into perspective, and to enjoy the positives while acknowledging the negatives.

There is no doubt the fourth quarter will pick up right where the third quarter left off. There will be pitfalls and unexpected roadblocks, but there will also be triumphs. There will be more snow, but there will also be warmer days. The only prediction I can make is that my future will be unpredictable. That’s life.

For the week off, some classmates went to tropical locations, or to California, or overseas to exotic destinations. As for myself, I decided to go back to Connecticut, where I was greeted by (what else?) four inches of snow. Sometimes, the best vacation is home.

Warm sandy beaches, palm trees and umbrella drinks were instead found in my mind. After a rough month of February, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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