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Q: My entire family are Harvard alumni. My father and older brother graduated from Harvard Law School, while my mother attended the same university but majored in a different subject. My parents have always been very insistent that I attend Harvard to continue the family legacy and said they kept donating to the school, investing for my sake.
My brother, who’s five years older, was easily able to live up to my parents’ expectations. He got his undergraduate degree at Harvard and graduated from its law school and is now working at a big law firm in Boston. I, on the other hand, didn’t get into Harvard. My parents couldn’t hide their disappointment when I entered Cornell instead. As I sat there feeling like I’d let them down, my mother told my father, “Well, I’m sure he’ll work hard in university, and he can always go to law school afterward.”
I was determined to get into Harvard Law School. While my college friends went out and drank, I did nothing but study for 4 years. Thanks to that, I graduated with an A average, and my father asked renowned jurists to write letters of recommendation for me. All I had to do now was do well on the LSAT.
My determination grew as I prepared for the test. Unusually for me, I even went to church and prayed. Getting into Harvard would be a dream come true. I’d be able to hold my head up high at Christmas dinner. I’d be free from the weight of my parents’ expectations. My dad could help me get a good internship and my brother could introduce me to his law firm colleagues. It felt like an express highway to paradise. Just the thought of it thrilled me.
But what if I failed the test and my parents were even more disappointed? I’d feel depressed and guilty forever. I was suddenly overcome by fear. If I didn’t get a good score, I wouldn’t make it to law school the next year. And I couldn’t very well just keep taking the LSAT over and over again. I had to succeed the first time.
As my fears grew, I developed insomnia. I often dreamed about failing the test and woke up sitting bolt upright. I felt dragged down and exhausted all the time. I lost 10 pounds in a month and it got harder to focus on my studies.
It was finally test day. As I was working through the test, I came to a really difficult question. My mind went blank and I stiffened. It was hard to even see straight. In the end, I handed in my test without finishing every question. With that score, I’d never be able to attend any Ivy League school, much less Harvard.
I’m now prepping for the test again. I’m even more desperate to finish it since I’ve failed once. There’s still plenty of time until the test, but I’ve already got insomnia again. What if I fail again? I just don’t know what to do.
-Adam from Boston
A: “If you really want it, it will happen.” We often hear that on TV or read it in books. Let’s consider it for a moment. Do the things we earnestly long for always happen? If not, why?
When we examine similar cases, we learn that ironically, the biggest problem is the ardent desire itself. If you want something to much, it won’t happen.
“I really need to get this contract. How great would it be to get that promotion and bonus? But what if I fail? That previous contract went off the rails at the last minute and I missed out on a promotion.”
“I have to do well in that job interview tomorrow. Once I’ve got a job, I can propose to my girlfriend. But what if the interview questions are too hard? What if I’m too nervous and stumble over my words?”
These examples show how our fears grow the more ardently we want something. These feelings increase our anxiety and hinder our focus. This is why top-ranked athletes flop at the Olympics and students fail crucial tests.
To return to your question, I recommend you first reflect on your attitude toward your goal. Excessive yearning and idealization of your goal can easily lead to anxiety and fear. These feelings push away good fortune and replace it with bad luck, ultimately ruining your dreams.
Attending Harvard Law School won’t solve all your problems or lead to eternal happiness. Keep preparing little by little and you’ll get there someday. Put aside your desperate expectations and try to feel at ease and comfortable about your goal.
It’s when people are relaxed and comfortable that they can be themselves and use their capabilities to their utmost. Achieving goals naturally becomes easier at these times. If, on the other hand, you are caught up in a battle with yourself, your life will be an ongoing war and the road to your dream can only be rugged and difficult.
Suh Yoon's Quotes“If you want something to much, it won’t happen. Our fears grow the more ardently we want something. These feelings increase our anxiety and hinder our focus.”
“It’s when people are relaxed and comfortable that they can be themselves and use their capabilities to their utmost.”
“Excessive yearning and idealization of your goal can easily lead to anxiety and fear. These feelings push away good fortune and replace it with bad luck, ultimately ruining your dreams.”