Dealing with stress and failure: a message for students

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A pick-up game of hockey is a great stress-buster

Spending time with friends is a great way to beat stress.

We’re heading into the final stretch of term, followed by exams. Unsurprisingly, stress levels will be rising across campus as students work to meet essay deadlines, complete assignments, and buckle in for the push through final exams.

Some may feel more stress than others, and may be worrying a great deal about a particular course, or about their standing in a program.  Some stress and worry is appropriate—if we didn’t feel it, we wouldn’t strive, or make the extra effort that we need to succeed. Stress helps us pursue goals and get things done.

But stress has to be your servant, not your master. Don’t let it get to you (channel it like the Force, Leia!). With the weather warming up over the next few weeks, it will be the perfect time to get out for a run, throw a Frisbee, or just take a walk by the lake. It all helps to blow off excess stress.

If you are dealing with the prospect of academic failure or of not meeting the goals that you set for yourself, please consider this: that’s life. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don’t turn out the way we planned. It has been nearly 40 years since I was a frosh here at Queen’s, and nearly 35 since I graduated.  I had my own share of worries and, indeed, some academic disappointments in my own undergraduate career – and I am pretty confident that every one of your professors could tell the same story. To cite just one example: I recall getting a very poor mark on several Christmas exams in second year, one of which was in my favourite course. I dealt with the immediate disappointment by heading off to the gym and working out. I resolved to apply myself more than I think I had in the first term. Thankfully, the finals were better.

Students studying at Stauffer library

With the end of the term in sight, stress levels are rising across campus.

Life will bring many great successes and achievements. You will likely also experience disappointments and setbacks, as well as further stresses as you pursue career goals, have relationships, and simply live life. Obviously, we would all opt for success over failure, but in my opinion, too much of either is a bad thing.  If we succeeded at everything, success would lose its value and appeal—where’s the achievement if you always win? (The publications I have been the happiest with over the course of my career, for example, are the ones that required the greatest struggle, often through several journal or publisher rejections—a process, I should add, that improved the final product every time).

What matters is not the successes and failures, but how you deal with both. I hope you will keep that in mind over the next few weeks, and beyond.  Give it your best, but not at the cost of your mental or physical health. And good luck with that final push!

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