Chapter 4: Conquering Fear

We first-generation students are rarely ever “one-trick ponies”. More often than not, we find ourselves having our hands in many pots: school, extracurricular activities, jobs, maintaining a social life, etc. We feel like we need to keep busy to prove that we are worthy of all the things we have in our lives. In my case, I felt an immense amount of guilt for being the first in my family to have access to big opportunities, that I constantly felt I needed to hold myself accountable for them. I could never fully bask in any of my accomplishments because I always had a fear that someone would think I haven’t worked hard enough or don’t deserve them. It wasn’t until very recently when I stopped to ask myself why I felt the need to overcompensate for my identity and accomplishments. In all honesty, it all boils down to one thing: fear. 


Previously, I’ve touched on how deeply pervasive the fear of failure can be in the lives of first-generation students. Fear is oftentimes the root of a lot of our anxiety and frustration. Recently, I’ve been paying attention to the importance of knowing when you are acting from a place of fear. More specifically, knowing when you are making fear-based decisions, and how to stop yourself before making them. For many of us, fear is a survival instinct. And an instinct that has gotten us this far couldn’t possibly be bad for us, right? Wrong. I’ve realized that when you only operate from a place of fear, you inhibit yourself more than you help yourself. For example, let’s say you’re offered two jobs. One is your dream job, in your dream field, but it doesn’t pay as much as you’d like it to. The other job is in a field that you dread, but the pay is amazing. A fear-based decision can drive you to take the second option, and potentially lead you to miss out on an amazing opportunity for growth and exposure. Point is: sometimes what seems to be the “right” decision, is the one we are making out of fear. 


So how can you check yourself to make sure you aren’t making a fear-based decision? Here are a few helpful questions to ask yourself before you make a definite choice. 


  1. If I take away the social and economic factors from this choice, would I still be choosing it?
  2. Am I excited to do this, or am I just scared to turn it down? Why or why not?
  3. Am I making this decision for myself, or is there an outside opinion that is influencing me?


All in all, fear is an instinct that will never leave us. However, there is a great benefit in learning how to manage it and distinguish your voice from a voice riddled with fear. Oftentimes, we can conflate fear with logic. While it can be hard to make decisions that feel “illogical” please remember the importance of honoring yourself and interests above all else.

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    Meet the Author
    Emely Rodriguez is a first-generation Afro-Latina who was born and raised in New York City. She is currently in her final year of undergrad at the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. She has obtained a minor in African American Studies and is expected to complete her degree in Biomedical Sciences this upcoming spring. Read more about Emely >