Of Dogs, Doughnuts and Depression – 4

Nathan Chan redefines success and revels in smaller achievements

It is exam season now, and every morning I see students sharply donned in sub fusc and roses heading towards the dreaded Examination Schools. Some obviously seem to have whatever is coming their way under control, with a smug smirk on their faces and taking big strides towards the battlefield with an unmistakable strut and swagger.

Such a composure, though, is obviously not shared by everyone. Some, I see, desperately hold onto whatever miniscule time they have left, agitatedly flipping through their concrete block of notes, hoping to squeeze into their brains that very last piece of knowledge – be it a formula, a fact, a name, a theory – that might possibly make a difference between a First and a 2:1.

It is, to say the least, a very, very stressful time for those sitting exams, especially Finalists, whose degree classification depends predominantly, if not solely, on the results they achieve in a set of papers they sit within a two-week period.

Take law students for example. They have to sit 9 papers within the span of 12 days. How this is even humanely or physically possible, I do not know, for I can barely write 9 words in 12 minutes.

In Oxford, the notion of success amongst us students inevitably skew towards how many Firsts you have gotten in your Finals, or how many lucrative job offers in the City await you upon graduation, or whether you’ve made it as President of the Oxford Union.

These achievements are no easy feats. They are the just results of hours upon hours of dedication and sheer hard work, and thus they undoubtedly deserve the recognition and applause.

But what if I do not achieve those things? Does that make me less of a success in terms of an Oxford student?

The notions of happiness and success are variable, for they differ from person to person. My counterparts might equate happiness and success with academic excellence and bright career prospects and thus endeavor their best to realize such goals. These are perfectly noble pursuits and one should not assume the moral high ground by denunciating such goals as being “worldly” and “overly realistic”.

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But for me, happiness holds a different dimension. With Tom around, it is admittedly difficult to hold myself up to the contemporary, or should I say, Oxonian standard of happiness and success. Happiness and success, after all that I have been through, now are much more simplistic conceptions to me.

I am happy because I made it out of bed this morning before 11. I am happy because I managed to write an actual full-length essay and hand it in on time for the first time in months. I am happy because I braved myself to speak to an actual, not imaginary, person today. I am happy because I could summon up a long-lost appetite to eat more than 1 meal today.

I am successful because I managed to win in a brawl with Tom today and I managed to kick him back where he belongs. I am successful because I was able to walk to the supermarket and back without having a panic attack in between. I am successful because I managed to take a shower, comb my hair and cut my nails properly. I am successful because I am less afraid of the dark now.

And I know no mountain is too high for me to climb. Because all the things I have done, means that I can do anything.