TTLG: Reflection As a Fourth Class
When I came to Dartmouth, I thought I was ready to do the worst academically. Call it low self-esteem, call it imposter syndrome — a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And, at times, I have been the worst in class. How can I describe what it’s like to look at the range of scores for economics and biology midterms and see yours at the bottom of the range? Especially after you actually tried? Sometimes, there is no direct relationship between the effort you put in and the outcome you get when it comes to academics. I’ve come to accept that here.
Even at a place like Dartmouth, where academics are foundational to our experience and excellence is expected, I may have been ready to accept not being good at school, but the effect doing poorly academically had on how I defined myself came as a complete surprise. I didn’t know who I was beyond the grades I was getting and, at least in the beginning, all my grades were bad. For a while, I leaned into whatever I was even slightly good at. If I couldn’t define myself well through my grades, I needed to find another way to do it. At this point, seeing myself as multifaceted was out of the question. I just wanted to replace one placeholder for my value with another.
It worked for a little while. I tried to find something that was much more immediately rewarding than grades might have been: my relationships with other people. I worked hard to connect with my residents as an undergraduate advisor and to become a better friend. I invested a lot of time and energy into this because the effort I put in to connect with people on this campus has almost always led to concrete outcomes. The more vulnerable I have been, the more supported I have felt. My communities here have been accepting of my experiences, of my insecurities, of my background — and ultimately, of me.
I had become so dejected after feeling like no matter how many hours I poured into my academics, I wasn’t improving. Therefore, the moment I saw returns on the effort I put in to be a supportive friend, I got addicted. But I was investing so much energy and time, sometimes in relationships that were not even reciprocal, just to be able to hold on to the idea that I was good at something. Very quickly, however, I neared the point of diminishing returns. I didn’t have the energy to maintain these friendships because I was being emotionally drained from not filtering out the people that weren’t for me. I hadn’t realized that too much of a good thing becoming a bad thing applied to things other than cake or cookies.
Finding balance has been difficult at Dartmouth because I didn’t always know how to distinguish what I was good at and who I am. I desperately wanted to put my entire self-worth into one thing because I thought it was easier that way. I didn’t want to put in the necessary time to self-reflect and find meaning based on the multifaceted aspects of who I am because I was so unfamiliar with processes of self-reflection. It all sounded like it came from a fuzzy realm far, far outside my comfort zone.
So, for a while, when I floundered academically, I misdirected my attention and didn’t exactly make the right choices. But given that I had gotten through the first 18 years of my life just by pretending that everything was alright, I don’t think I can blame myself for needing a bit of time. Especially as the going got tough, and I encountered setbacks for the first time, I needed to learn how to handle it all the “right” way.
I suppose I’ve felt like I’ve done nine four-course terms at Dartmouth. Because for me, figuring out how to best handle Dartmouth and best define who I am required the kind of time and effort I was only used to putting into my schoolwork. So yes, it took me a while to learn how to find balance and not beat myself up when it looked like my hard work would never pay off. It took me time to learn how to not swing from one extreme to another, generating all my self-worth from school or something else. While I would have been deeply content to never have had to learn to be resilient, I am glad that I learned some of those lessons now. I get to live the rest of my life equipped with a much stronger, less rigid conception of self.
Over time, I also learned how to succeed at Dartmouth (hello, median!) by working smarter, utilizing the bajillion resources offered at this place and by figuring out what I actually loved to study. But it doesn’t really matter as far as my self-worth is concerned because, as it turns out, you are not just what you do, what you are good at or even what you are bad at. You are all that and more. You are none of that and more. I didn’t know it before, and I don’t always remember it. But when I do, I tend to have a better day.
Namrata Ramakrishna is the undergraduate advisor for the Gender Equity Living Learning Community.