Those damn anxious butterflies: A personal essay

Irene Chen/File

We as a collective society have this undeniable fear of mortality. Something about the uncertainty of death and ceasing to exist disturbs our psyche and pushes us to pursue any method of distraction from this inevitable death. We think we can live on by accumulating fame or wealth or even purchasing more physical “life” through the advances of medicine. But death ultimately doesn’t escape even the best of us, only breaching its invisibility from time to time in the manifestation of dooming anxious butterflies swarming around our stomachs.

Graduation is right around the corner, and instead of feeling joyous relief or nostalgic blues, I feel those damn anxious butterflies. It’s a paralyzing sentiment that catches my breath midair and arrests my mind while I struggle to fight the feeling of nausea. May twentieth of twenty-nineteen at exactly two o’clock in the afternoon marks the end of an identity. It’s a breakup of sorts from myself as I let go of the college version of me for the grown-up-in-training version of a self to be formed. No longer bearing the title of student, we will be among the masses. There will be no more gracious passes giving us a break or a safety net of security that catches us every time we say: “I don’t know; I’m still a student. I’ll figure it out later.”

As my student status comes to an end, campus grounds no longer seem to be attached to the stress and rigor of classes but are instead a memorial to all the versions of myself.

There will be no more gracious passes giving us a break or a safety net of security that catches us every time we say: “I don’t know; I’m still a student. I’ll figure it out later.”

Putnam Hall, my freshman year dormitory, marks the end of the dependent child I had been. No longer tied to family or the familiarities of city life, I was thrown into a tiny triple room in which I had to coexist with two random strangers who later became my closest friends. I learned what it meant to be on my own as a “real” adult.

Hearst Memorial Mining Building was where I took one of my most pivotal classes in the gender and women’s studies department. It shook up everything I once knew to be facts and truths. It forced me to really think and to question everything. We learned about social constructs, gender identities, racial issues and everything in between. Although it wasn’t a major requirement class, it remains one of the defining moments in which I no longer had a blanket of oblivion wrapped around me as I looked at the world through rose-colored glasses. It meant taking off the blanket and the glasses to really see.

Wurster Hall was where I learned that I could absolutely suck at something. I took a landscape architecture course thinking it would be fun, easy and out of the ordinary. What I was actually faced with were assignments that made me realize I could try my hardest and still produce subpar results — and it turns out that art is really damn hard. Every time I hear a comment about the easiness of arts and humanities classes compared to STEM courses, I think back to the time I almost flunked and the undeniable tenacity and work that goes into it. Society has these misconceptions and dollar values on certain disciplines, and I’ve come to realize that we cannot choose the talents and passions that we have developed to match those same incentives, but it doesn’t mean that one is less valuable.

But in that moment, as I interviewed for a position on The Daily Californian’s Weekender staff, the editor referred to me as a writer, and that left a deep imprint on me of who I could be and who I wanted to be.

It was at Caffe Strada that I was called a writer for the first time. I wasn’t an English major, I had never written anything outside of school assignments, and I definitely did not have the confidence to let anyone read my writing. But in that moment, as I interviewed for a position on The Daily Californian’s Weekender staff, the editor referred to me as a writer, and that left a deep imprint on me of who I could be and who I wanted to be. I realized that the insecurities and doubts were something that lived on in my mind that prevented me from pursuing seemingly far-fetched dreams. I was the only one holding myself back and the only one who could push myself — and that realization was both terribly scary and freeing.

The Campanile was where I finally parted ways with the false dreams I thought I wanted. I spent three years as a biology and economics double major on the path for a career in health care and financial services, but deep down, I knew my heart was elsewhere. Under a tree near the Campanile, I sat on a bench as my tears blended with the pelting rain. For all my life, I listened to the wants and hopes of my parents, my peers and society. Happiness seemed to be a path of common successes like a steady 9-to-5, two kids, a dog and a life in the suburbs. I realized that I could check off all the tick marks for milestones that make for a seemingly accomplished and fulfilling life and I could still be miserable, so what was the point? It was in that moment that I said aloud a goodbye to everything I was working toward, even though it made logical sense.

Although postgrad life is uncertain and unknown, I won’t let the butterflies guide my actions. I say goodbye to frantically accepting life plans just because I am afraid. If tomorrow I am a bartender listening to the woes of my fellow friends or I’m traveling the world and writing of adventures or even simply doing nothing, I know I will be more than just OK despite those damn anxious butterflies.

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Contact Nelly Lin at [email protected].