If you’re anything like me, the opportunity to write a column in the News brought on a familiar sense of reluctant excitement. A Tuesday morning email meant that you would have to shake the apathy from your fingertips and once again put pen to paper. It would be a rewarding experience and you’d be happy once it was complete, but after a summer removed from deadlines and responsibilities, this was an unfortunate wake-up call. I could almost hear the collective murmur of my Type A peers around the globe as we sighed, cracked open our laptops and began to tiredly type out our pitches.
For many people, writing for the News is an optional activity. For others, however, foregoing this opportunity can lead to anxiety and self-doubt. Overwhelmed with selecting classes and packing, I initially considered not submitting a pitch. Then, almost immediately, I began to question whether I had lost my drive this summer. People were completing rigorous internships and traveling the world, and all I had done was relax with friends. Would I be ready on Aug 26? Needing to cast-off these doubts, I sat down and promptly began to agonize over a topic to write about. Regardless of whether I had anything to meaningful to say, I was going to write 650 to 800 words.
For a Type A person like myself, passing up any opportunity proves difficult. Working hard is always easier than grappling with the anxiety that you aren’t working hard enough. This mentality draws us to the Ivy League, since acceptance to a prestigious school is seen as the ultimate opportunity that cannot be squandered.
Type A personalities gravitate towards schools like Yale, but once we’re here, do we actually flourish? Bombarded by Facebook posts advertising countless extracurricular activities and academic programs, we feel an obligation to participate in all of them and simultaneously realize that we can’t. I have no interest in the Western canon, but I seriously considered applying to the Directed Studies program. It took a moment of introspection to dissuade me, but my instinct was to apply, despite the immense amount of work I’d have to dedicate to a topic I don’t actually enjoy. Even after my decision, I let June 3 pass with a touch of regret. Yale can be a lose-lose scenario for Type A personalities: We either try to do everything and fail, or we don’t and grapple with self-doubt as a result.
With a Type A mindset also comes a compulsion to be the best. At Yale, where every student is uniquely qualified, this can be a dangerous fixation. We are not accustomed to rejection, yet with selective programs like Directed Studies first introduced over the summer, many of us have already experienced disappointment. For the first time in our lives, we have been knocked from our safe perch atop the totem pole, forced to prove ourselves in a new environment where we may never be the best. Writing a column in the News is probably a subconscious attempt to assert my voice and assure myself of my abilities in a field of highly capable classmates.
What I have come to realize, however, is that speaking loudly is not a surrogate for intelligence. Regardless of how many columns I write, I need to accept that I will never be the smartest person at Yale.
Is this a defeatist attitude? Do I really think that as a Type A person I have no chance of surviving college? Far from it. In fact, I think that with a few slight adjustments, Type A personalities can thrive. Of course, this is easier said than done: To shift one’s mindset is to fight instinct.
The first change comes in learning to let go. I mentioned earlier that Type A personalities either seize every opportunity that comes their way or feel anxious about foregone experiences. The third option, however, is to let that anxiety dissipate. Close the email from the Yale News and realize that some columns are better left unwritten (obviously, you should take my advice with a grain of salt — this is a process for me!). Remind yourself that everything happens for a reason and that passing up an opportunity may be for the best.
The second change comes in understanding the difference between ambition and obsession. Capable peers will push us to attain personal bests, and competition can be healthy as long as we accept that we will not always win. Realizing that we do not need to be the best will allow us to be our best.
Then again, I may be completely missing the mark. Perhaps I have incorrectly categorized my feelings as “Type A.” In that case, I apologize to any true Type A personalities I may have offended. I wish you all the best during your time at Harvard.
Elliot Connors is a freshman in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .