Winter may have arrived in Westeros, but spring has sprung here in New Haven, and I bet the work ethics of your senior spring and ours during the end of this semester are much more similar than we’d like to admit. In all seriousness, though, congratulations on getting into Yale. This place is your home now, too, and in light of that, I want to share a few thoughts about risks and about making the most of your time here.
A couple days ago, I had dinner with a good friend of mine. After spilling tea and filling each other in on our lives, she told me that she was planning on dropping debate, one of her big campus activities.
I looked at her, dumbfounded.
I asked her why she planned to do so, and she told me that she had been feeling really burnt out. After reflecting on it more, she realized that she had really only joined debate in college because it’s what she had done in high school. “Joining seemed like the logical thing to do when I got to college.” Continuing with debate, she told me, was doing what she had always known.
This example typifies so many interactions Yalies have with our school. We’re sent these glitzy acceptance pamphlets — some of us probably still have them from Bull Dog Days — where Yale brags about how many opportunities it offers. From majors to dance groups, Yale emphasizes one theme: breadth.
For many, the breadth of opportunities here was one of the chief selling points of Yale. Indeed, for the most curious and ambitious students, having all these options is mouthwatering. More fundamentally though, emphasizing breadth is a way of comforting us. Yale is really advertising how easy it is for everyone to find his or her niche here. That’s a powerful sticking point for a student body that is put under immense pressures during its time here.
While many people at Yale do take advantage of the opportunities Yale has to offer, there’s a sizable undercurrent of people who don’t. Of all the things Yalies have to offer, risk-taking is not exactly our strong suit.
One of the problems with trying new things at a place like Yale is that we’re surrounded by peers who have spent years refining their skills in their areas of interest. It’s human nature, especially among Yalies, to try and project competence and success. In such a sense, to try our hands at new activities and not succeed would mean we’ve failed. Of course, that’s not true. But nevertheless, we don’t often try new activities because being mediocre would mean we’ve failed at projecting competence. In short, we’ve got a vulnerability problem.
Vulnerability doesn’t just scare risk-averse Yalies out of trying new activities — it also scares them out of relationships.
What we’ve got instead, is an infamous hookup culture that prioritizes low-cost interactions and brackets emotional vulnerability. Don’t get me wrong — there are definitely other reasons at play for why Yalies don’t love relationships. But I suspect that the fear of being rejected, combined with the same desire to come across as competent and successful, creates real hurdles for Yalies who find that, frankly, it’s just easier to stay superficially engaged with their romantic interests, and to call it a day.
Risk-taking is a muscle we have to be more comfortable with exercising. Writing in the newspaper, for instance, is something I had never done before coming to Yale. It’s now one of my most engaging and fulfilling commitments. Stories like this are everywhere at Yale, but I’m wary that too often, Yalies just continue with their same fields of interest because they’re afraid of trying new activities and failing. We want to seem polished and successful at what we do, but when polishing ourselves causes us to shirk away from activities we aren’t certain we’d succeed at, we’re bound to feel unfulfilled.
Being so risk-averse really only catches up to us when we’ve already squandered opportunities. In terms of extracurriculars, we’re stuck going through the motions in the same activities we’ve always done, sometimes for years on end. And when it comes to intimacy, we’re left being romantically mediocre.
So prefrosh, when you get to campus next fall, don’t just pay lip service to trying new things. There’s a reason Yale has all of these opportunities, and engaging with them, although it takes energy and vulnerability, can often lead to some of the most fulfilling commitments and relationships of your bright college years.
All the best,
Sammy Landino is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College. His column runs every other Thursday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .