Have you noticed how pre-frosh look at us? They think we have it all. But sometimes I want to go up to them and tell them the truth: I may be at Williams, but I’m not fine.
We all know the image of the ideal Williams student. Many of us resemble it – the well-rounded student who somehow manages to take five classes, double major, play a varsity sport, boast leadership roles in all their clubs, become a JA or attend Oxford, take multiple tutorials, always look good and still manage to sleep.
What the tours don’t tell you is the flip side. They don’t tell you about crying yourself to sleep and then getting up the next morning to put on makeup and go to class; about taking caffeine pills or Ritalin to stay awake; about drinking or harming yourself to take away the pain; about violating the honor code because I’mfailingarequiredclassandwhenamievergonnausethisbullshit? No one wants to admit they’re drowning.
The symptoms of effortless perfection are pervasive on campus. Nowhere is this more obvious than the way in which we glorify stress. Something I’ve overheard countless times in Paresky is “I have a 25-page paper due tomorrow and I haven’t started.” It turns into a competition as to who can be the most stressed. The only person allowed to complain is the one with the most work – it’s a contest no one wants to win.
We try to convince ourselves that we can sleep, study and socialize, but the truth is, usually we can’t. Sleep is the weakest link, and all-nighters become an accepted part of campus life.
When you’re trying to be perfect, failure is not an option. Fear of failure keeps us from trying new things, whether that means courses, activities or friendships. And it makes us stick with things that we think we should do, even if they make us unhappy. And there’s also a sense that there’s no point in doing something you can’t put on a resume. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, “I would, but it won’t help me get into med school. Or law school. Or Wall Street.” It’s as though we’re so worried about the future that we can’t enjoy the present.
We even see it in the way we talk. “Hey, how are you?” is the standard campus greeting. But try to count the number of times you’ve heard a reply that indicates things aren’t going well. We say it and walk away because we don’t want to accept that something might be wrong. It would call into question our own happiness.
It’s hard to reach out for help. There’s a stigma on campus attached to taking time for yourself, whether that’s taking a semester off, staying in on Friday night or eating alone. There is pressure to always be surrounded by other people and to be the one they can depend on, even when you’re having your own problems.
But this is not to say that help isn’t here. There are resources on campus to help. Peer Health, the Dean’s Office and the Health Center – they all exist to help you handle the stress of being a Williams student. Everyone thinks they’re the only person who can’t handle it, but you’re not alone. Everyone struggles with stress to varying degrees. The way to be happy is through effortful imperfection – throw your energy into what you love, even if it means failing sometimes. Failure is normal and even good sometimes. And it’s okay to admit that you are stressed and can’t manage everything. It makes you happier.
I am Williams: I am not perfect, and I don’t want to be.