Reflection: Get Out of Your Own Way
One writer examines how overthinking hindered her confidence at Dartmouth.
This article is featured in the 2023 Freshman special issue.
Like many members of the Class of 2027, I was admitted to Dartmouth because of my critical thinking skills. My philosophy has always been that if I deliberate enough, not only will I be able to solve any math problem, but I will also find a solution to any qualm.
However, few of my daily thoughts at Dartmouth have fulfilled this philosophy. Instead, for the past two years, rather than finding solutions, I have frequently found myself stuck in an endless train of thought. I would sit in the library and suddenly wonder if a random person in my government class found me funny. I would walk to class and conclude that I didn’t have the grades to get into law school. Instead of brainstorming for an essay, I puzzled over aspects of myself and picked apart every recent social interaction. As I met talented person after person, I fixated on how I must not belong at Dartmouth. I convinced myself that I was the only person struggling with my course load, that my grades in high school must have been a fluke and that I had become less intelligent since starting college.
If you repeat something to yourself enough times, you start to believe it. I decided I was just not the type of person to get an A in an Ivy League math class — then I didn’t. I assured myself that asking basic questions in office hours would make me seem dumb, so I remained confused. I got rejected from one internship and concluded that I wasn’t qualified for any programs, so I became hesitant to apply. I thought myself into a cycle of self sabotage.
My overthinking tendencies did not stop at questioning my intelligence. In the midst of an assigned reading, my mind would wander to why my face looked puffy. While taking an exam, I would find myself reliving awkward moments from months ago. I even spent an entire period of my favorite class at Dartmouth replaying a conversation I had in a fraternity basement.
These unhelpful thoughts also started to impact my interactions with others. With each new person I met my freshman year, I tried to mold my personality to adhere to standards I created in my head. I worked tirelessly to seem interesting, cool, funny and smart — but, of course, not so funny and smart that I was deemed irritating. I longed to be someone that any person would want to be friends with — the type of girl that would become a lifelong friend of the sort you see in every stereotypical college movie.
When my friendships shifted my freshman year — as almost everyone’s will — I believed this shift occurred because the more people got to know me, the less they liked me. It was a thought with little rational basis, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. So, in a state of constant self doubt, unable to live up to the friendship standards I had seen in movies, I closed myself off. I rarely reached out to new friends first, as I was unsure if they actually wanted to hang out with me, or if it was only a matter of time before they got bored. I often forgot about plans and then assumed that the person I had canceled on no longer wanted to hang out because I was a horrible person who flaked on them.
I didn’t realize the extent of my overthinking until a year later, during fall sorority recruitment — when I had to open myself up to being judged by my peers. Before rush had even started, I had over-thought the process for months, falsely envisioning that becoming a member of a Greek house would mold me into a new and improved version of myself. During rush, I spent almost every waking moment overanalyzing each interaction and barely slept. I concluded that I was weird, unable to hold a conversation and needed to improve my style. I judged myself in the way I thought those older sorority members perceived me. I was so focused on which houses wanted me back that, in the moment, I forgot that my relationship with myself was more important than others’ perceptions of me. I failed to remember who I am, and that she is more than good enough. After a long conversation with my mom — and many tears — I dropped out of the rush process entirely.
I did not realize until the winter term that some of the girls who I had agonized over impressing in the fall, I likely would not befriend — we shared practically no common interests. I was so fixated on how they might judge me that I forgot to focus on making friends who simply accept me for who I am. From then on, I began to see how — in almost every aspect of my life — I was constantly worrying about my actions without considering my own feelings. From hanging out with people who made me feel worse about myself to obsessing over a guy who made no time for me, I slowly realized that I should stop devoting time and mental energy to people who barely deserve a second thought.
As I enter my junior year and my final five terms at Dartmouth, I feel sad and angry that I’ve wasted so much time overthinking at this institution, with all its incredible people and amazing opportunities. Despite my accomplishments — I was at an Ivy League college, with great friends and lots of passions — I constantly reminded myself of everything I was not. I wonder what I would have done differently, or who I would have met if I had put my own feelings first. When I remember my past self, I want to give her a hug and tell her everything will be okay.
I would like to say that I no longer overthink — that all the growing pains of going to college disappear after becoming an upperclassman. Unfortunately, even after you feel like you find your place on campus, there will still be new things to overanalyze. To be perfectly honest, I even scrutinized this very article, scrapping the entire first draft because I deemed it too personal and something no one would want to read. Yet, I am growing — I have started to catch myself when I overthink. I even set my lock screen background to a cheesy Pinterest wallpaper that states “How we live our days is how we live our lives” as a reminder to let myself live in the moment.
To the Class of 2027, your days at Dartmouth will go by faster than you think. I beg you not to waste them overthinking and doubting yourself. Be present. You got into Dartmouth because you are qualified, smart and interesting enough to be here. You also got into Dartmouth because you are unique and maybe even a little quirky: Embrace that. Be yourself. Understand that you cannot be friends with everyone, and that relationships may come and go.
Rather than overthinking, spend your limited four years here focusing on what brings you joy, whether that comes from your classes, friendships, extracurriculars or other spontaneous activities. In these next four years, you will accomplish great things — do not try to convince yourself otherwise. Remember that overthinking for hours usually creates more issues than it solves. Instead, make the most of your time at Dartmouth. You’ll be a junior before you know it.