Okay, strictly speaking it's not quite true that "life will be just fine". The Darwin Awards stories quickly put an end to that fantasy. Still, beyond a certain point, worry becomes counterproductive, and it's okay for me to trust my future self to do the best he can with the best I can give him.
This perspective might've helped me over the past year. Then again, while I already knew it on some level, believing it was always difficult. So maybe what I should do is add more data to the pool, for my future self and for those who come after me. Here are some of my regrets (is that the right word?), and the ensuing state of mind as well as I can reconstruct it from the outside...
- In second semester of sophomore year, I took a class and didn't make enough time to work and understand the problem sets. When the second midterm smacked me with the realization of just how lost I was becoming, I weighed my chances of recovery and decided to withdraw from the class. That really hurt my confidence in my suitability as a math major.
- That summer, I took on a research project but felt drawn in far too many different directions by the rest of life. Gradually I wore out, and my research project fizzled. My confidence crisis deepened, now with a side of "wtf am I going to do for recommendation letters?"
- I entered college carrying a romantic relationship. By November of junior year, it had fizzled, due in large part (I think) to me not being open enough and not making enough time for it. While I think my ex has more right to complain (having put up with that for as much time), the year or so surrounding its dissolution left me, uh... rather troubled anyway. (Also, go ahead and insert an undercurrent of worrying about this into my aforementioned academic unease and the Delve story.)
- Speaking of Delve, can you guess what destroyed my confidence in my management and leadership abilities?
This is how I found myself, halfway through junior year, feeling like I'd just lived through a year of mistakes and wondering if the pattern was ever going to stop. Fears lurked in my head about being unfit for grad school, unfit for the Real World, unfit to be a boyfriend or even a friend, ad nauseum.
It can't have been too bad—day-to-day I was still functional and capable of enjoying life as usual. On the level of little details I could identify specific issues I intended to address. So no, I wasn't crippled, but whenever the clouds of despair gathered... boy, did that feeling suck.
Now, looking back, this doesn't look like much to blink at; but looking back also shows me the time that followed, in which life was just fine anyway. I guess that's "time heals all wounds" gradually healing my self-confidence. I count myself lucky to have helped with some of the process so far:
- Second semester of junior year, I revisited the subject I dropped by taking a closely related class and keeping up to the end. Yes, analysis is hard and I seem to be bad at it, but at least now I have evidence that this isn't an insurmountable difficulty.
- This summer, the same professor who mentored me last summer was gracious enough to accept me back on the same project (which has since approximately concluded with us actually finding what we were looking for).
This more or less brings us to the present, whose version of me is thankfully feeling rather better now—at least, well enough to write this entry. (Writing this turned out to be challenging for a number of reasons. Among the important but not-so-obvious ones was that, since I still don't think I've learned all I can from this experience, I kept getting sidetracked into introspection in the middle of writing!)