10/30/2012 03:25 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2012

What Would Be Left?

In the midst of the stress and confusion that was characteristic of midterm exam week, I was constantly a victim of abhorrent self-criticism and often doubted my own abilities. I continuously told myself that I was obligated to work harder than everyone else because I didn't have the same mental capabilities -- that I didn't deserve to attend Duke University and that Admissions had made an imprudent mistake by accepting me.

After reaching such absurd conclusions, I decided to give up, close my books, and retreat to the safe haven of my dorm room. Miserable and disheartened, I walked into my room, threw my backpack across the floor, and collapsed on my bed. My roommate, Zack, who was used to my daily melodramatic entrance, waited patiently for me to finish complaining before he asked me a question that would leave me thinking for days to come.

"Mousa, what exactly would you say defines you?"

After a moment of silence had passed, I frustratingly looked up and responded with the usual, "What are you talking about?" Expecting such a response, Zack smiled and sat in the chair in front of my bed to relay his philosophical sermon.

"Think about it. If you didn't come to Duke, if you weren't involved with all of these clubs and organizations, if you weren't as talented as you are, what would be left?"

Stunned by the difficulty of the question, I sat up and thought about an adequate response for what seemed like an unfathomable inquiry. I took a deep breath and tried to give my roommate the answer he had wanted to hear. In a very melancholy tone, I gave him a predictable, yet realistic response.

"Nothing. Nothing would be left."

Zack smiled yet again, stood up from his seat, and proclaimed as he was leaving the room, "maybe that's something you need to work on." And then after the sound of the door shutting ended the inevitable silence afterwards, I was left with a message that would change my perspective on life from then on out.

The problem with college students is not so much that we naturally compete with one another, but that we forget to true reason why we're here. Sure. We all go to college for an education and to get one step closer towards accomplishing our ultimate objectives, but one sad fact of the matter is that we are inherently goal-oriented. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but we tend to be focused more so on the actions and means by which we seek to accomplish our goals rather than diminishing the stress by realizing what life is truly about. By focusing on our goals more than anything else, we are succumbing to a lifestyle of sleepwalking -- a life where we are awake, but are always looking ahead to attain satisfaction.

But now, thanks to my roommate, I can see clearly through the mist and fog that were clouding my senses. Throughout the past few days, I have decided to let go of my ego and to marginalize my definitive pursuit of material possessions. I've come to realize that, though the fulfillment of my goals is very important, what truly matters is where we are standing right now -- what truly matters is what we would be left with if we diminished the stress and apprehensions associated with our sense of self and our goal-oriented lifestyles. It's important not to overlook what makes our lives worth living. Yes, it's good for us to focus on our goals and the means by which we can attain them; however, it's more important to value the assets of our life that we take for granted.

As Zack went on to tell me, "if we disregard the material elements that bolster our egos such as grades, possessions, and accomplishments, we ultimately want to have lived our lives in such a way that we're left with what matters the most -- love, friendship, and passion." We want to have lived our lives in such a way that leaves us something to fall back on if we end up taking a different route or path towards our goals. And most importantly of all, we want to have made a difference not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others as well.

By shaping our lives around what we hope to achieve, we are denying ourselves the elements of life that should be valued. We shouldn't live our lives in a way that solely advances our goals, but that allows us to pursue the aspects of life that will always be there for us regardless of whether or not we achieve our goals. We want to have lived our lives in such a way that something will always be there for us when everything materialistic and goal-oriented is taken away.

And for this realization, I have my roommate to thank.