“I’m so afraid I can’t cope up with the lessons.”
“I don’t know if I can survive such a tough university life.”
These are the sentences that my juniors, and also my friends, told me on Facebook. And, yes, honestly speaking, these were pretty much the same things that I once asked my own seniors before I came to university as well. As the first person in my family to study overseas, there are of course tremendous expectations, and also unexpected circumstances, those that one can anticipate, and those that one can hardly hope.
Well, it is so a humane thing to have fear on anything, especially on something that may be existing in our own ‘uncharted territories’. Reminiscing myself two years earlier, I was back then a half-excited, and a half-nervous, soon-to-be university student. Being half an optimist, but at the same time overtly a skeptic, these are the very feelings that I could describe days before coming to the university. My parents were university graduates, but they studied in the same hometown I was born and raised; I would be the first to leave, and to experience, a bigger perspective of the outside world. Meeting new people with completely different cultural values and social norms, yes, I got that uneasy, initial feeling, too; life became split into two possibilities, all in the presence of the unexpected. First, it leads you to rediscovering yourself, or second, you fail to cope with the changes that you just ‘withdraw’ yourself from the existing reality. Thinking of the fact that I have to do laundry myself, get in to surrounding places by my own, organize stuff through my own planning, and to be completely independent in the absence of my family (but I am grateful that my aunt, uncle, and cousin helped me so much in transiting to university life) were the fears I always thought of in the future.
Back then, it was 2013; flash forward to 2015, I’m already on my halfway. I am utterly grateful that I can complete the transition phase fairly well, and truth be told, I am now more open-minded than I was two years earlier. Stereotyping still lingers in my mind, but now in a rather controlled setting. I’ve met a lot of new people from various countries and backgrounds (well, not all of them had my positive impressions), but pretty much I learned to understand their values and their own stances towards certain areas that may not be suitable to our own cultural notions. Yes, I do my best to tolerate them.
Still, it can’t stop me from fear of the future. With Indonesia’s currency values dropping over 40% in the last two years, of course it keeps me worried about my chances of getting into higher, postgraduate education. Or whether in spite of my (relatively) good grades, I can afford to get a stable job in the future. Excluding my random thoughts about any ‘plausible’ (but not necessarily possible) scenarios in the very distant future (perhaps things befalling the elder me or my future generations). It is as though my mindset were set in a constant, survivalist mode.
Fear itself doesn’t have to be a paranoia-inducing idea; you don’t have to kill someone off just to eliminate it, because truth be told, we can’t eliminate fear. It is one of the most powerful legacies that evolution has ‘bestowed’ us within millions of years; fear, if stimulated into a controlled setting, can actually be a good thing by itself. I am not a psychologist, but I would rather derive the benefits from my own understanding and common sense.
One: fear enables us to outline contingency plans
Simply speaking, don’t put all eggs in one basket.
Two: fear conditions us (most of us) to value the present moment
Nothing in this physical universe is destined to last forever; the only constant is change, oftentimes unexpected. I don’t believe in the ideal of ‘benevolent universe’, so much so as I believe in that of a savage one; we see everything, from both sides and the extremes, taking place simultaneously. The universe is just damn indifferent, after all. So, for all the best and the worst, enjoy this moment now.
Three: fear stimulates us to learn something new we have never learned before
We can’t completely anticipate the unexpected, but learning new skills and things beyond our usual passions and expertise can actually help us cope with circumstances much better than having none. Simply speaking, just because we don’t precisely know what will happen in the future.
Four: fear prepares us to adjust to new realities much more easily
There are things we can avoid, and there are things we can’t help avoiding but slowly adapt. Nostalgia is a good thing, but too much reminiscing into the past will not make any adjustment into the future much better. Understanding the impermanence of the present, no matter how difficult or painful it will be (more often than not it is), helps us better in adjusting to new, and constantly changing, circumstances.
Five: fear enhances responsibility
Specifically, our own responsibilities as family members, friends, group members, or wherever any positions we are in charge of. It ‘forces’ us to put out all our efforts to accomplish a goal.
Anyway, not all, or not even any, of my advice is inherently useful. Too little fear induces arrogance, our propensity to underestimate all possibilities, or even a sense of superiority. We have seen enough how conflicts, wars, and other disasters have taken place, oftentimes out of the ignorance resulting from such ‘too little fear’, but too much thinking about them also unnecessarily robs the happiness out of us, making us closer to asylums than to happily living our lives. A balanced dose of fear is necessary, and even beneficial, if one can apply it in a careful, wise approach.
I am just writing as a student, not yet deeply experienced in any real-world stuff by the age of 20. Realizing the day-to-day fear that soldiers, doctors, surgeons, firefighters, police, scientists, entrepreneurs, parents, or even refugees have to face all the time (and almost all occupations inclusive), they surely have more to tell, and much more to share, than I do.
Bonus: some of the world’s best and most serious thinkers do even share their fears of what will happen to human civilization up to 50 million years to come (some exaggeration intended).