Anticipatory Anxiety

September 19, 2009

My son, an adult student in another state, goes back to school on Monday, and at a faculty meeting yesterday, I sat next to a colleague who began a doctoral program this summer. With both of them I was talking about that beginning-of-a-new-quarter feeling: a bit of excitement and anticipation mingled with a whole lot of apprehension and a dash of “why am I doing this?” I never got past that feeling, not even twenty years after my first return to school.

My journal from more than twenty years ago reveals that I had three main concerns before my first day of school as an adult returning student: What should I wear? Where do I go? Will I be able to do this? I got past my worries about what to wear and where to go, but I never quite got over that anticipatory anxiety at the start of each quarter. What did make it better was having successful quarters behind me—reminders that I could indeed “do it.”

Even as a teacher, I always imagine that the start of a quarter is like standing at the end of a dock extending out into a huge lake. In the middle of the lake is a raft I have to swim to, but I don’t want to have to dive or jump into the water because I know it will be cold, and the raft looks an almost impossible distance away. I jump in anyway and feel that first shock of the cold water and part of me wishes I could scramble right back out. But the other part of me knows that if I just stay in the water, I’ll get used to it. And I do. And I swim to the dock. But even though I do it over and over every quarter, I still dread that first shock of the water and I still wonder if I’ll make it to the dock.

It only seems as if you are doing something when you’re worrying.
• Lucy Maud Montgomery

What are your worries about school?


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