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Opinion

Success waits for those who force through

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December 11, 2008

You might be really distracted this week, with your final assignments and exams staring you in the face. I know I am. Sweating over deadlines, studying for the tests and maybe juggling all of that with a job. It can drive you nuts. The closer you get to the end, the more trapped and frustrated you feel. In previous semesters I dreamed of jumping forward through time and waking up at the start of winter break, with all my work and stress over with.

Maybe we can view these last few days as more than a grinding ordeal. Maybe they are also an opportunity, a test of the skills that we’ll need to get by in the real world: efficiency, multitasking and the ability to succeed under pressure. Whenever we get so worn down that finishing the school year seems almost impossible, perhaps we have different inspirations that encourage us to keep going.

I have a memory like that, too. No matter what else I go through in this life, this one experience is always there to remind me that success is not out of reach. It was eight years ago at a summer camp, with a lot of people my age. I can’t quite remember the camp’s name or all the kids I knew there, but I do know the experience made a better person out of me.

We did a lot of great things at that camp, like rowing and portaging in the Boundary Waters and having a bog fight on the last day. We walked into a large swampy area, scooped up handfuls of wet plants, and threw them like snowballs. Then there was a system of narrow walkways and ropes suspended about 30 feet in the air. They put a harness on you, hooked it up to a cord stretching overhead, and then you had to somehow get across those catwalks, logs and ropes.

I remember how nervous I was, watching the instructors and other kids in my group do that course. I had never been very good with heights. Even climbing up a ladder onto the roof of my small house was daunting, and that walk through the air was higher. When my turn finally came I was pale, shaky and didn’t think I would make it all the way through. What made the situation more embarrassing were the other kids all watching me from below; most of them had finished before me. “I can’t possibly do this,” I told myself. “I’m not as good as they are.”

I started walking-or stumbling, really, along these catwalks while I held out my arms to steady myself. The harness would keep me from falling, of course, but if I chickened out up there I was pretty much on my own. Once you started, you had to finish. About halfway through the course, it happened: I froze up. I think I was standing on a log at the time and I just got too scared to go any further. The rest of the course, the trees, the sky-they all seemed to tilt and sway in front of me. I was sure that this would be one of the worst days of my life.

But that was when I heard a very unfamiliar sound: voices from below, cheering me on. I knew the others were watching, but I didn’t think they would do anything but stare and giggle among themselves at my incompetence. But there they were, yelling up to me with the counselors-even the kids I couldn’t stand. They said over and over that I could do it, that if I had gone one half of the course I could do the other half.

So I opened my eyes, gritted my teeth and finally started moving again. I was still scared out of my mind, of course, but I was inspired too. I knew that quitting was not an option. Finally I came to the last part of the course, a jump from the last platform to the ground. I took a leap of faith, the cord led me down safely, and everyone cheered. “I was wrong,” I thought at that moment. “I am good enough.” It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Sometimes, you are your own greatest obstacle-you tell yourself that you can’t do something, and then you make it true. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve been through things more difficult than the last few weeks of a college term, and the same probably goes for most of you. So whatever is helping you get through this last lap of the semester, remember that success is a lot closer than it feels. I wish you luck.