How Are You, Really?

by Caroline Hsu | 5/16/18 2:20am

caroline

Caroline Hsu, left, poses with a friend. 

Source: Courtesy of Caroline Hsu

“How are you?”

If I got a penny every time someone asked me this, I would be able to pursue my childhood dream career of being a professional McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets taste tester. I studied abroad in the U.K. last spring, and my British friends told me they found it absurd that Americans used “How are you?” not as an actual inquiry into another’s state of wellbeing but rather as a perfunctory greeting phrase. I’m never sure how to answer the question; it depends on how close I feel to the asker, but I will usually respond with a chirpy “Good!” I am overall a happy person, and so my positive response is generally not facetious. Yet there is something disingenuous about the whole exchange; it is almost as if saying anything but “Good!” is socially sacrilegious.

Dartmouth is a beautiful, intellectual, tight-knit and, unfortunately, sometimes toxic place. Everyone is overcommitted, everyone is high-achieving, everyone is perfect — at least, there is a pressure to appear that way. At one point or another, most Dartmouth students struggle, whether academically, socially or financially. Yet we are discouraged from complaining too much because, of course, everyone else is also overburdened. In reflecting on my past four years at Dartmouth, I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of these struggles stem from an obsession with external validation. Over the years, I have cared increasingly less about what others think of me and more about what I think of myself. I’d like to share three broad guidelines that I’ve started to live by.

1. Do what makes you happy.

The first time I realized I had given up most of my hobbies was, ironically, when I was filling out the “Interests” section of my resume in anticipation of corporate recruiting. In high school, I was editor of the literary magazine and regularly submitted creative writing pieces in addition to painting and playing the violin. I gave up most of these pursuits when I came to Dartmouth because I thought my time was better spent studying or doing other “practical” things. Who has time to read books for fun anymore? Something being a “waste of time” is such an arbitrary categorization; if something makes you happy, then it is worth the time. I now indulge in Taylor Swift’s most recent romantic rendezvous in my downtime without any guilt.

2. Spend less time on social media and more time living in the moment.

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe that social media is the root cause of our generation’s mental health problems. I do, however, think that using social media with the wrong mindset can be detrimental. I used to spend hours on Facebook, carefully curating my profile and editing photos before posting them. I thirsted for likes as if they were vital to my survival. In order to maximize my number of likes, I would purposefully post during a time of day that people were on their computers or phones (Sunday after dinnertime). These days, my Facebook profile is outdated and riddled with silly photos of me. Freshman me would have been aghast at the state of my profile, but senior me realizes that I am who I am, no matter how cool my social media presence makes me look. So, no, I’m not going to delete that unflattering picture that makes my nose look big.

3. Care more about the things that really matter to you.

I can’t count the number of times I did things at Dartmouth — taking certain classes, going to certain social events, etc. — because I felt they were supposed to matter to me. For example, I participated in sorority rush my sophomore year; in hindsight, I really had no compelling reason to rush aside from the fact that all my friends were doing it. Luckily, I love my sisters and couldn’t be happier in my sorority, but it’s important to think about why you are doing something before you do it. Academically speaking, I now take classes simply for fun or because they are something I am passionate about. I am currently taking a class on global poverty purely because it looked interesting to me and because I wanted to learn more about international development. It has been one of my most fulfilling learning experiences at Dartmouth and has made me realize I am interested in that field.

My time at Dartmouth has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and what will stay with me forever are the incredible people I’ve gotten to know and the experiences that have made me stronger. Thank you, Dartmouth, for helping me realize that it’s okay to not always be “Good!”