Ellis: Invest in Yourself

A mix of kindness and selfishness is critical to your Dartmouth future.

by Simon Ellis | 9/12/18 9:00am

To the Dartmouth Class of 2022,

Following a series of regretful events my freshman fall and winter, I found myself sitting in the dark, on the salted and snow-battered floor of my dorm room single in the Choates. As I felt the cold floor beneath my hands, I debated on whether or not I would give up on Dartmouth and transfer. Although I don’t have some miraculous turnaround story of how I beat all the challenges, or how I pulled myself out of the slump I thought would never end, I’m still here. I love Dartmouth. But there was something I wasn’t doing at the time while beginning my life here that helps me to not only survive, but thrive: I was not being selfish enough.

As you prepare to settle into your rooms and print out the readings for your first classes or attend your first dorm party in the Fayes, this seemingly unproductive or “negative” way of thinking is probably the last thing on your mind. Don’t get me wrong, this was just the start to my Dartmouth experience, but I have a feeling a lot of people end up in situations like these. Coming into an institution like Dartmouth, where it seems as though everyone has their group and has found their place, it can feel like you have to change in some way just to fit in. Change in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s when we sacrifice the things we love and our own character when it becomes problematic.

I can remember forcing myself to dress as tackily as possible for a capella auditions to try and get into what I thought was the best group, or pretending to suddenly have an interest in pong out of nowhere because I thought that’s what it took to rush. Whether it be trying to get a 4.0 and as many citations as possible or trying to get into a Greek house, we allow ourselves to change at the risk of making barriers to our own happiness. Normative statements about what it takes to achieve these goals, like pulling multiple all-nighters or going out every night, become actualized walls to our own happiness. This is where change becomes problematic, when we sacrifice pieces of our current selves to try and become the people we want to be.

I think this is a long-existing phenomenon, but I would bet that it’s amplified at Dartmouth. There is most certainly an aspect of this elitism that contributes to us not allowing ourselves to be happy, substituting happiness for things like achievement and success. You might think this is all too pessimistic, and that is either untrue or unavoidable.

But I don’t believe the majority of Dartmouth students want to be like this. You, the freshman class, are exceptionally wonderful human beings from a diverse range of experiences — and, might I add, are the most selective group of students Dartmouth has ever had. Despite your success on paper, your perfect SATs and your nearly impossible community service projects, I have to ask more of you, something that I and many at Dartmouth often forget to do.

I ask you to be selfish. I ask you to think about the things that make you love life, the ways in which you draw value and feel happiness. Do them. We are all too willing to change at the risk of forgetting the things that bring us joy. Yes, take the time to have a Foco cookie and go swimming in the river. Don’t get bogged down in what you think makes other people happy. Put your own happiness first, and be unapologetic in accepting nothing but the best, nothing but happiness, because it’s what you deserve. There are very few, if any, times after college in which you will be able to do this, so take the time now.

But contrary to conventional wisdom, this doesn’t mean you can’t also be kind. Just because you want the best for yourself doesn’t mean you have to wish anything but the best for anyone else, something I think we all forget. Take the time to help the boy carrying packages from the Hinman Mail Center to the River, or listen to the girl across the hall who just wants someone to talk to. Somewhere along the line, we confused competition and selfishness in our best interest for personal success with competition between each other — a mistake that should never be made.

So the ball is in your court, ’22s. You are about to face a myriad of opportunities and be given chance after chance to try something new. All I ask is that you consider yourself first — just a simple check-in will do — and then be as kind as possible to those around you. I know it’s a lot to ask, and something I have doubted anyone can do. But now that you’ve made it this far, I believe you could do just about anything you set your mind to.