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If it’s true that stress is seasonal, I’d have to say mine peaks around this time every year. The temperature is dropping, it gets dark by 5 p.m. and I’m trudging, unmotivated, through these exam-packed weeks between fall break and Thanksgiving. (Shout out to all those professors who insist on sneaking in an extra midterm.) Still, the real reason I’ve been especially anxious since early November is not the weather or the workload, but the onslaught of information sessions about fellowships, summer opportunities and — it scares me to write this — career choices.
Constant reminders of the looming, expectant future have even been infiltrating my social life. Scrolling down my News Feed last week, Facebook suggested that I attend the “Google Information Session,” an event that promised to discuss “business, cool things, or doing something that matters.” So a few nights later, I found myself in a packed classroom in WLH. I wasn’t surprised by the large number of students who had shown up — some even dressed in full business attire — because, well, it’s Google. But looking around the room at people sitting on desks, standing shoulder-to-shoulder and overflowing out the door, I couldn’t help but feel tremendously intimidated. A representative from Google stood at the front of the room, rattling off attributes that the company expects in its applicants: creativity, a keen business sense, initiative. To keep things light, she asked a few trivia questions. Addresssing one respondent dressed in a suit and tie, she asked whether he’d ever been involved in a startup.
“Actually, I’ve started three,” he replied, without missing a beat.
Facebook had claimed that “dress code [was] completely casual,” but Mr. Three Startups wasn’t the only one dressed as if this were the most important business meeting of his career. After being pushed up against a chalkboard by another suit trying to make his way to the front of the room, I realized that while I may have better manners, the suits likely have better resumes — and are probably way more qualified for a summer position at Google. Really, it seemed like everyone in the room, everyone at Yale for that matter, was more qualified than me. There were business owners in the crowd, and I was now the girl with a giant chalk stain on the back of her sweatshirt.
It’s not just Google that’s intimidating, either. At Yale, every opportunity draws a ton of interested students, and every student probably has a killer resume. When I sat down to update mine, I’ll admit I had a minor panic attack on common room futon. What new, cool thing had I done since the summer? How could I convey the significance of my summer internship spent reporting on patterns of rainfall in New Jersey? Why did my life appear so unexciting and unimpressive on paper?
With my cursor hovering over my current GPA, I reached for my suitemate’s Hershey’s milk chocolates. My stress-eating only fueled my worried thoughts. Everyone at Yale is a good writer. Everyone manages an on-campus job in addition to their five or six credits and long list of extracurricular activities. Everyone was valedictorian in high school. Everyone has a good relationship with a professor who might be able to get them a paid internship. I paused to throw out the pile of wrappers that had accumulated beside my laptop. Taking a breath, I realized something: maybe everyone sort of misses their glory days in high school, when life was just less competitive. Maybe everyone is a little intimidated by everybody else.
I wasn’t naïve when I arrived at Yale. I knew I’d be surrounded by incredibly smart, incredibly talented peers — big fish. This makes competition inevitable, especially when people start applying for spring break trips, thinking about summer opportunities and planning for fellowships. A competitive atmosphere isn’t always bad. It’s probably what motivates me to go to a Google information session in the first place. But what competition shouldn’t do is make anyone feel small. We all got into Yale, and there are plenty of people out there who are impressed by that simple fact in itself.
Of course we can’t rely on Yale’s prestige alone to get us a job — Mr. Three Startups certainly isn’t banking on that. But we all have potential, because Yale encourages it in each of us. Perhaps my seasonal stress causes a distorted self-perception. I don’t always have chalk on my sweatshirt, so maybe I should stop pilfering my suitemate’s chocolate stash.