Hello, Class of 2020! You have now returned from your FYG trips and are probably in the midst of planning – figuring out what you need in your dorm room, testing out classes, or learning more about the extracurriculars you want to do. Each of these opportunities beckons new perspectives and intrigue, offering a chance to grow and enhance your (already stellar) character. There are many things that you will grow accustomed to here: tea and Ath treats every day, the weird smell outside of Collins, and the intensely involved student body, to name a few.
Extracurriculars and over-involvement at CMC are a double-edged sword. The student body partakes in a plethora of clubs and organizations, which, in my opinion, bolsters the sense of home and community at CMC. Yet, this can also makes for an oddly competitive environment in which extracurricular involvement can define the degree to which you feel like a “true” CMCer. It can be extremely alienating to feel as though you don’t belong at CMC – mainly by a projected image of what a CMCer should be, and that you don’t fall into that camp.
It’s easy to look at yourself in absolutes. You are an athlete, policy wonk, should’ve-gone-to-Pitzer, or TNR fiend. Or, maybe you have a projected image of what or who you want to be. When you don’t live up to that – which is more often than not a false, idealized version of CMC – it can feel like you failed completely.
I am not immune to this—in fact, I wanted to transfer out of CMC during my freshman year. Part of this was that I felt that I didn’t stack up to my classmates because I got rejected by all these clubs and organizations and research institutes, that I was simply not the type of person that should attend CMC. I came in last out of 12 candidates for freshman class president. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t internalize this loss (and all the other club rejections) and define myself as “not fitting in at CMC.”
But then I realized, “fitting in” essentially stood for being a part of a handful of organizations and trying to fulfill an idealized path of who I thought I was. I pigeonholed myself into a certain identity and let things out of my control define me, tacitly accepting that this is who I am. I thought the ink had dried – that my CMC story was bound and ready for publication, feeling completely and utterly worthless that I couldn’t meet or match what my peers were doing.
Buzzfeed quizzes tell us what we are based on horoscopes and questions about your favorite pug wearing glasses. Yet, as Confucius has written, by narrowing yourself and trying too hard to self-actualize, you’re actually dragging yourself down, and you’ll have a harder time getting to a true understanding of yourself. Ambition, drive, and hard work all are great qualities to have, yet they can sometimes hurt you. Opening yourself up to surprising or new possibilities may let you discover something scary or unexpected about yourself. We contain multitudes and layers that can be invisible until we hit the right chord.
I came to CMC thinking I wanted to work for a security studies think tank. I disliked high school English and I never enjoyed writing. I can safely say that after 3 years at CMC, none of these things stuck. Those think tank dreams are long gone, I now take Lit classes frequently, and I love writing. I’m not patting myself on the back for undergoing some sort of “transformation” at school. Rather, what I mean to say is that I would have never fallen into or loved these new passions and pursuits if I had held onto a rigid definition of myself. If I wanted to, I could’ve tried again at other ASCMC positions or perhaps taken more IR courses. But, when I tried new things, I found new passions through this openness; instead of holding onto the prior version of who I thought I was and continue barreling down that path, I embraced seemingly unusual hobbies and interests that turned out to become newfound passions.
Projecting a life you want to live can leave you hollow. The idealized version of ourselves is, predictably, what we most often strive for. Yet, maybe this isn’t who we really should be. You may in fact be miserable in what you thought your passion was, or you may absolutely love the joy of a previously hated hobby. That’s awesome – good for you for discovering this new side for yourself. Relish and lean into that. Experience what Elena Ferrante calls “the joy of the new.”
You’re extremely malleable creatures; you’re so young and sometimes don’t even realize it. I want you, freshmen, to know that it really doesn’t matter if you’re in a research institute, ASCMC, a sports team, some other club, or even if you choose to just laze by the Scripps pool all day. You’re multifaceted, primed for growth, and can pretty much do anything you want. That’s the beauty of college; even if you mess up and question every one of your prior notions, you can easily get through it. Open yourself up to the boundless opportunities ahead of you, and try your hand at many of them to figure out what feels right. College is where you become who you are, and you may be better off if you end up not as the person you think you should be, but as the one you’re busy becoming.