Yale has some of the most amazing, talented people I’ve ever met in my life. But it also has a worryingly high amount of people who are constantly stressed out, seemingly lurching from one crisis to another. And I think that maybe these two are related.
Yale is filled with overachievers — high school valedictorians, student body presidents, people to whom anything lower than an A means the end of the world — and when you put all these brilliant people together in one place, not everyone can be on top again. By definition, “below average” necessarily includes 49 percent of the student body. And, even though we don’t admit it, this comes as a shock to most of us. People who have never failed in their lives are suddenly faced with the prospect of not being the best anymore. Thus the crux of the matter is this: Yalies don’t know how to fail.
But after a semester or two, you might expect that this problem should have worked itself out. We should have messed up enough times to know how to deal with it. Yet this is frequently not the case — upperclassmen are often as highly strung as freshmen, if not more so. And it might be because Yale makes it too easy for us not to fail.
Take, for instance, one straightforward example: grade inflation. Sixty-two percent of grades awarded in the 2010–12 academic years were As and A-s. What this means is simple: Students can frequently leave their coursework or studying to the last minute, become increasingly stressed over it, cram everything they were meant to learn in one term into one day, pull an all-nighter and still get an A. For too many students, it’s a process they’ll rinse and repeat for four more years.
But surely this isn’t a problem, you say. If students can get by with bad, or nonexistent, time management and still get top grades, then more power to them, right? But this misses the point entirely. By making it nearly impossible for us to fail, Yale not only places us in a state of perpetual and unresolved stress, but the University also leaves us unprepared to cope with greater challenges later in life.
Too many students make bad decisions during the weekend — they stay up all night getting really drunk or binge watching Netflix — and then complain about the workload at Yale and panic. Too often grade inflation and lax professors level the playing field for everyone in the lecture, no matter what you did the night before.
We need to learn that our actions have consequences, and, even more importantly, to accept and deal with them. In many cases, the repercussions are not nearly as bad as they might first seem to be. Surely a B or even a B- on our transcript is just a tiny hitch in the greater scheme of things. On YikYak — unquestionably the source of all our collective wisdom at Yale — I saw one student post that “getting a B was the most liberating experience of my life here.”
We’re constantly told by peers and administrators that we’re all amazing and future leaders of the world. Yes, some of the people I’ve met here fit that description. But most of us aren’t actually that special, and we need to stop being coddled. Instead, I’m asking the University to give us just that much more room to fail
And, as students, we need to take ownership of our decisions and learn from our mistakes. Instead of expecting to be bailed out every time, we need to be able to stare failure in the face, to confront and face the consequences of our actions and then to pick ourselves up, ever so slightly worse for wear, and move on. And perhaps, looking back, we’ll find that things weren’t so bad after all. Our greatest glory should not be in never falling, but in rising up every time we fail.
It is often said that college is a safe space for us to experiment, to make mistakes and to find ourselves. (I’m still not too sure about the last bit though.) But what people often forget is the logical corollary to this statement — that we have to learn from our mistakes and perhaps come out just a little bit tougher and wiser from them. And sometimes, there is no better way to learn than by screwing up and then picking ourselves up and moving on, as we have done plenty of times and will continue to do for the rest of our lives. Failure is inevitable in life after Yale — whether you miss out on the promotion you felt was deserved, or see a marriage fall apart. Not much of what we learn at Yale will actually be useful in the real world. But learning to fail is.
Martin Lim is a freshman in Berkeley College and a copy staffer for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.