TTLG: Perfectly Imperfect
“Hi. How are you?” “Hey. I’m great — what about yourself?” “Great!”
Welcome to Dartmouth — where just over 4,000 school presidents, team captains, valedictorians and award-winners all across the world have been plucked, pooled together and made to live in the small woods of New Hampshire. Seventy-nine percent of students consider themselves happy, 100 percent of students have these types of interactions on a daily basis and 0 percent of students put the time and thought into crafting these monotonous one-word answers.
’22s, don’t worry so soon. Dartmouth loves its first-years. You will never feel more loved in your four years at this school than you will now. For the first few months, upperclassmen will be eager to offer you advice on anything and everything. The College and faculty will seemingly have office hours 24/7. The Class of 1953 Commons will be really good. When you look around, everyone will be smiling, chatting with friends and playing soccer on the Green. Everything will appear to be perfect. Everyone will appear happy. This is what I hope to talk about: underneath the waves and smiles, everyone has problems. We just don’t like to talk about them.
When you look around, you can’t help but compare yourself to your classmates. Everyone enters Dartmouth with a laundry list of accomplishments tacked to their names and leaves the school with even more. Everyone appears to be on top of their grades, involved in hundreds of activities and maintaining immaculate social lives — all the while making it look effortless. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is far from the truth.
I was the kid my first year who bought into all this. I spent so much energy trying so hard to fit in that I became obsessed with showing only the best parts of myself to the people around me. I would tell people about the clubs with which I was involved, the classes I was taking and how much I loved my hometown. No one ever asked for more. Because of this, I thought these were the only things people were interested in. I thought that the more people knew these basic snippets about me, the more friendships I had formed and the more people to whom I could wave and say “Hi,” the more I was doing Dartmouth “right.” I was wrong.
It wasn’t until the winter of my sophomore year that I truly realized the toxic mindset I had been forming. For three months, I lived and studied abroad in Lyon, France. For the first time in my life, I had time to spend alone on myself with my thoughts. It was then that I realized the standards of perfection I had established and my narrow-minded approach to doing Dartmouth “right” were harmful.
When we choose to only talk about and portray the best parts of our days and, to a greater extent, ourselves, we create a stigma against our problems and mental health. Many of us are hyper-competitive people who have thrived in hyper-competitive environments, but as a result, we have created the need to be hyper-competitively happy. But when you aren’t happy, you can’t hide it. There will be days when you aren’t feeling so great. Your grades won’t be where you want them to be, friendships you care for won’t work out and you’ll have problems back home. But whatever it is that’s making you feel not great, just know this: It’s okay. Your problems are real, and no one is forcing you to be happy.
Having learned the hard way, I hope I can offer you this:
Promise yourself one thing before you start your next four years at Dartmouth: toss away your obsession with being perfect. You will not be happy until you stop striving for perfection. You will meet some of your closest, lifelong friends here, but these relationships will not form on the premise of both of you being perfect. Take the time to meaningfully check-in with yourself and others and reach beyond the passing small talk. Be yourself, be imperfect.