It has been two months since the passing of Nelson Mandela and many are still mourning for the loss. I still remember the sinking feeling in my stomach when I read the headline that afternoon in December. Even though Mandela and his policies did not play an immediate role in my life, it still upset me greatly to know that the world had lost one of its greats.
Mandela’s death prompted me to think about the legacies people leave behind and the potential impact an individual has on the world. Although his passing was unfortunate, there were very few who referred to it as “untimely” – many believed that after all he had accomplished, he deserved to finally rest in peace. What would it be like to live a life so inspiring, and so monumental, that a young woman such as myself – a person so far removed from circumstances and consequences of human rights in South Africa – would feel as if your life resonated with them as well? To have a life so fulfilling, others look to you on your deathbed and say that your time here and all that you had accomplished was enough for one lifetime?
As a student at U of T, we are often told that our capabilities are boundless, even though we often feel otherwise after cycles of unreasonably difficult midterms. We are constantly and tirelessly challenged, frustratingly pushed to our limits in the pursuit of academia. One has to wonder (as I’m sure many of you have) what we are putting ourselves through all of this for. A common complaint (not so much a complaint now as just a general statement that is made) I hear from my fellow students is why they came here and rendered themselves victims to the toil and turmoil that is U of T coursework.
Our aspirations – whether it be to discover a cure, to become a mother, to become the first in the family to graduate – are all equally noble and important pursuits in their own right. But what differs from person to person is the motivation behind our goals. I believe that it’s because many of us here would like to believe that we, too, hold the capacity to live a life to inspire others by some means. Perhaps not to the magnitude that Mandela has inspired, but to make something of ourselves. I don’t know many underachievers here at U of T. That could just be because I choose to surround myself with other students who understand and encourage one another to go after their aspirations, or it could just be for the simple reason that a majority of the students who attend this school are determined to live up to the expectations and ambitions they have set for themselves.
But often I find myself in the predicament that I can’t quite pinpoint the exact reasons for why I continue to study. Somewhere along the way, we’ll lose sight of what we’re really here for. 2013 as a whole was a very harrowing and challenging time for me. I was physically, emotionally and mentally worn out. For the first time in my entire life, I began to have an inkling of a doubt my decision to pursue higher education. During the most tiring, soul-crushing moments, reasons like making my family proud, or living up to expectations, or wanting to give myself a challenge… they just don’t quite cut it. Very recently, I’ve come to the realization that my motivations for doing most of what I do stems from a very simple, very cliché explanation – I’m just striving to be the best version of myself, in anything that life throws at me. I am spurred (albeit, very frightened) by the idea of the unknown. I am inspired by the idea of possibility.
Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. At some point, did he question his motivations and actions that led to his confinement? I can’t speak entirely on his behalf, but I think it is fair to say that he, too, was very much inspired by the idea of promise – he understood what any one person was capable of doing for humanity, and set forth to do it himself.
My take on staying afloat at U of T? Find what keeps you from hitting the snooze button for the 7th time that Wednesday morning, what keeps you bouncing back after the next job interview you bomb, whatever it is that’s keeping you from going off the rails when its midterm season and you’re swamped back-to-back in deadlines and test dates. Remember to look at what you’ve accomplished so far, and how much more you can. Remind yourself of it. Hold on to whatever, or whomever, inspires you.
‘Til next time –