There is no time of year where I feel more disappointment in psychology, philosophy and anthropology majors then right now. Because right now, all of you Yalies are doing the unthinkable, the illogical, the downright mad. You are making yourselves sick over doing well on papers and exams, over impressing teachers, over getting good grades. You are victims of an anxiety that makes no sense, and you are the perpetrators of it as well. I expected more from the psychology, philosophy and anthropology majors.
Think about it. When you study for that Macroeconomics final, why are you doing it? You want to do better than other people in the class, or at least as well (re: Inability to be happy for others, unless you are equally or more successful). You don’t want your teacher to think you’re an idiot and to prove to your parents that it was worth a few hundred thousand dollars to send you to Yale (re: Need to please others). You want to go to law school (Well, why do you want to go to law school? To help people? Probably not, but even if you do, it’s so that others, who want your approval as well, will approve of you and admire you and sing your praises. A chorus of the needy).
No one studies for Macroeconomics for the pure pleasure of learning macroeconomics. Well, almost no one. In this country we are completely unable to be at ease. We’re so anxious about our peers, because we have far too many. Would you jump off a bridge if everyone else were doing it? Well, only if I could do it as well or better than the rest.
Why are we so insistent on attaining others’ approval, even to the point of damaging our physical and mental health? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. That’s true, but it’s also much less stressful and significantly more satisfying.
It’s so hard. We’re so driven, not by ambition, not by desire, but by pure, unadulterated fear of being lost in this massive herd — you fall behind, and that hyena, Ed from “The Lion King,” picks you off. And that, my friends, would not be a nice way to go. And the running is giving us blisters of the soul. We’re not happy. It never occurs to us to stop and look around and see if Disney characters are really slobbering at our heels or if they’ve disappeared into the vault along with the rest of old-school animation.
Grades are, fundamentally, bad for us. They’re as bad as cigarettes, maybe worse, maybe as bad as booting black tar heroin. Grades make you hate the people who do better than you, condescend towards and pity the people who do worse than you, and worse, they make you question your own self-worth. Your sense of how good you are at something is entirely dependent on people who were entirely dependent on this strange and arbitrary system all the way back to when grades were first invented. It is a sick domino effect of collapsing egos, which is fine, but in the meantime, those dominoes have destroyed our ability to be our own be people, to believe in ourselves without the interference of other people, whose capacity to judge was allotted them by others who were so deemed and so on and so forth down that weird inexplicable line of creation of values
But grades aren’t going away any time soon. Grades are, one might say, an evil necessity, like Styrofoam cups, trans fat and teaching assistants. So it’s up to you to be strong, to fight the good fight, to repeat this mantra, “I am not my grade. My grades say nothing about me. My grades are an arbitrary system with which society judges me, not with which I judge myself. I am beautiful, smart, and just because my poser roommate got the same grade as I did while high does not mean I should kill myself. I am not understood in my own time. I am the master and commander of my own scholarship. Et cetera et cetera et cetera.”
Okay, so don’t repeat the et ceteras. Just work with me here people. Everyone else’s anxiety is making me anxious: for you, for your ulcers, for your inability to be happy for others. I can’t be happy for others, either, but that’s because I have no summer internship and you have two and though the one has little to do with the other, I can’t be happy for you because I can’t be happy for me. So let’s start with something simple, like these nasty little letters and red-marked comments at the end of your papers. They mean nothing. Don’t worry about it. You have so much. Things could be worse. Things can always be worse. Always. I saw a guy the other day with a cranium of mythic proportions. And even that guy had a job, and he was laughing. You will make it. So chill. I have enough to be anxious about without your contagious anxiety. It’s like the plague or, you know, a really bad flu bug.
If I confused you at all here, read Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety, my new gospel. Then you will be well on your way to understanding your lack of Zen and be relieved that at least you’re not the poor, unoriginal internship-less girl who writes this column.
Katherine Stevens will be returning to us shortly.