Many Harvard students have been groomed from birth to succeed. Come freshman year, these overachievers are confronted with the best of class, best of school, and best of country all converging on one campus, the culture of competition inevitably heightened by the exclusivity of the pool. We strive to be captains, presidents, class marshals, Hoopes recipients, and UC elects – but how does this pervasive pressure to be chosen bleed into our relationships?
Harvard’s brand of hyper-aggressive ambition can dominate – and often destroy – our ability to connect genuinely with one another.
Never before coming to Harvard did I doubt my intelligence in a casual social context. “How are you?” becomes a terrifying inquiry when you fear that a truthful answer may cause you to appear weak in the eyes of your friends, acquaintances, and rivals. “I’m really struggling on my paper” turns into “I think I have a paper due tomorrow but haven’t even started it.” Just brush off the issue, joke about it, make a self-deprecating remark about laziness or lack of preparation, and you’ve successfully masked the unmistakable stench of fear.
That’s what it comes down to, right? We are all afraid to fail. After all, failure is a fate that, at least before Harvard, few of us had faced. But the risk of failure and rejection, the most formidable duo to an Ivy League student, are the preeminent components of forming deep and lasting connections, both romantic and platonic. Putting in more effort than may prove personally beneficial is just an ugly, unavoidable reality of relationships, but it presents a foreign challenge to the many professional-grade achievers whose every action is intended to advance them in some way. What then when the relationship is an end in itself?
On the topic of romantic relationships in college, I have both heard and used a multitude of words to describe their usefulness, among them are distraction, hassle, drain on energy, unrealistic, complicated, and unmanageable. With this mentality, making time for and devoting energy to a person becomes the equivalent of an extra class or club, an avoidable scheduling dilemma. I see this cynical attitude in myself and my peers, and given that it’s my last year, I think I’ll try to change it.
With only four years to live amongst thousands of the most talented and passionate people you may ever meet, penciling in a meaningful moment or two may be well worth it. No amount of fear should stand in the way of falling deep into something that no p-set or paper can provide.