Please don’t get me wrong: I loved college. I had an amazing college experience filled with great memories and amazing friends, and I loved my major and my school (shout-out to William & Mary! Luh dat place.). But if I had to rank each of my college years in order of goodness, I would probably put sophomore year last.
One of my most vivid memories from that year is sitting in the stairwell of my dorm crying on the phone. I didn’t want my roommates to hear me because I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone except my mom, who is my rock in times like these. It was too much. I was too stressed.
I was still trying to figure out how to balance my academics, social life, and sleep pattern and I was a little wobbly on my feet. Well, make that very wobbly. I was taking general requirement classes totally outside my comfort zone and academic interest (I’m still bitter about you, Geology 101) and it was hard. Very hard.
As I was sobbing uncontrollably, probably about a Geology assignment I didn’t know how to do (I really am still bitter), my mom said something to me that finally stuck.
“Amanda, just do what you can,” she said. “That’s all you can do.”
Somehow those words shook me from my self-pitying stupor. After we hung up I went back to my room and wrote “Do what you can!” on a sticky note and placed it in a visible spot on my desk.
It stayed there. For the next three years.
Even as I moved from a dorm room to an off-campus house and then eventually to an apartment in NYC, my sticky note stuck with me. And so did my manta. Do what you can.
Over the years, the versatility of this phrase has amazed me. It’s comforted me in times of stress, when I have a big assignment due or I worry about getting daily tasks completed, because I know that at the end of the day the only thing I have control over is what I can do.
I have a certain amount of time in the day and a certain amount of energy and skills. I can only do what I can. That’s all I can do. And the world will keep on turning regardless of what I accomplish today and what I can’t.
This phrase also applies when I am thinking about social justice issues or causes I care deeply about.
Sometimes major problems like racism, sexism, or environmental destruction can seem so big and daunting. But I must do what I can. I have to do what I can. And if it’s not enough, I take a restless kind of comfort knowing that I did everything in my power to make the world a better place. That’s all I can do, after all.
Remembering to do what I can frees me from the burden of worrying that I won’t accomplish enough. It also pushes me to exert all the energy, time, and resources I can into a project or cause. It reminds me that I must give everything I can possibly give, and once I’ve done that, it has to be enough.
I am doing what I can every single day to live purposefully, and I know I am giving all I’ve got!
Is there a phrase you repeat to yourself in times of stress or worry? What is it?