Worry has been on my mind lately. First of all, I am a weapons-grade worrier myself (it’s part of my genetic makeup; I come from a long line of women who worry). Second of all, I heard a statistic about a week ago that a study showed that 30% of college students felt so depressed within the last 12 months that it was difficult to function and 50% felt overwhelming anxiety. For those of us who work with, care for, and love college students, those statistics can be – well – worrisome.
This morning I stumbled upon a letter that American author F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have written in 1933 to his 11 year old daughter, Scottie. It reads as follows:
Things to worry about:
Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?
With dearest love,
Granted, this is overly simplistic (re: bugs) and appropriate for an 11 year old. But in a sense this is a beautiful thing to try to do for a child – help them separate the wheat from the chaff in the world of worry, and focus them on the things that feel the most important.
I don’t know if your specific student worries or not, but I can tell you some of the general worries that I hear when students confide in me:
– Disappointing parents and families – by choice of major, by grades, by going Greek (or not going Greek and they think their parents want them to, or not getting into their mom or dad’s Greek organization), in their choice of romantic partner
– Not earning as much money as their parents do/taking a lifestyle backslide after college
– Not feeling any great academic passion/difficulty in deciding on a major
– Not getting into the WFU business school (or any med school, law school, etc.)
– Getting a job after college
So, Deac families, I offer you this as a point to ponder in the coming days and weeks: if you were going to write a Worry Letter to your student, what would you say? What would you want them to know about life, and how to differentiate the small stuff from the Really Big Bad Stuff? What advice would you give that they might cherish?
Do you think your student would want to have this kind of letter from you? Do you think it would help ease his or her mind in times of worry when they are far away from you? Maybe this is just me, but there was nothing in the world that made me feel better than knowing I had mom and dad’s love and approval, no matter what. Especially when I made a mistake, got a bad grade, did something foolish. They were still there for me.
A few years ago, my mom gave me the nicest present I ever got from her in my life. She had handwritten “I give you my mother’s absolution for the rest of your life, no matter what the circumstances” and framed it. It hangs on my kitchen window and I see it every day. It’s one of the handful of things I would grab if my house was on fire. Whenever I have a bad day, I can look at that and feel better.
I invite you to write your own Worry Letter to your student. It may mean more than you can ever imagine.
Categories: campus life