Columns, Opinions

Vilsan ’19: The young and the restless

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

With CareerLAB strategically placed in the middle of campus and the name of a leading educational institution on our diplomas, most Brown graduates feel confident stepping out of the comfort of college and into the real world. Brown has consistently been successful in getting its students employed come graduation. But with all this working in our favor, this time of year is infamous for nervous students pacing around campus, weighing internship options and inevitably comparing themselves to others. During the high-stress season of job recruitment and exam stress, students fail to enjoy all that college life has to offer and forget to pat themselves on the back for their success thus far. Instead, we set our sights on the next destination: quick and groundbreaking success, without taking the time to realize that success comes in many forms and follows many timelines.

Come recruitment season, lecture halls are packed with sharply dressed and ambitious Brown students hoping to secure a summer internship or job. Brown is known to attract the top names in the business — from McKinsey to Goldman Sachs — allowing students to aim high in their post-graduation careers. Looking from afar, these lecture halls look like trailers for life at an Ivy League — young adults dressed in Brooks Brothers with the twinkle of a bright future in their eyes. But when you step back, you realize the hall is filled with 20-something year olds with little idea of what they’ll end up pursuing and doubts about whether they’ll make the cut. And the truth is, with only a couple spots up for grabs, most students in the hall won’t.

Brown has a reputation of being one of the most laid-back Ivy League schools. We’re supportive of each other, we hate cutthroat competition and we value our passions over our wallets. Right? As much as Brown lives up to its supportive reputation, recruitment season jumps out as being the most fidgety, high-strung of the year. With job slots up for grabs, we can’t help but be competitors and compare ourselves to others. A feeling of inadequacy becomes commonplace on campus.

So why do we have it in our heads that to win the game of employment, we have to secure the best jobs at top companies? Why don’t we spend more time appreciating how far we’ve come as students and counting our blessings? This phenomenon isn’t limited to Brown by any stretch of the imagination, and it may not even be unique to our generation. The threshold between education and employment is inevitably paved with doubt and insecurity. We all feel like sharply dressed kids auditioning for grown-up roles at some point. The transition isn’t supposed to be easy — if it were, success stories wouldn’t be nearly as inspiring. But our drive to excel can get dangerous when we become so obsessed that a brighter, more profitable future clouds our ability to enjoy the present.

In a TED Talk, Harvard graduate Shawn Achor argues that, during a visit to his alma mater, he didn’t notice the level of happiness among students that he was expecting. Jittery students failed to live in the now — they focused on working themselves to the bone in hopes of being happy in the future with their shiny careers and professionally-furnished apartments. But we’ve worked hard to get here. What’s the point if we don’t let ourselves enjoy our time in college?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not arguing that looking to the future and working hard is a problem. But if we take a step back, we’ll notice we’re expecting a lot from grads in their early twenties. We’re being incredibly hard on ourselves for no real reason: We’ve made it this far, and falling once in a while is exactly what’s supposed to happen. Not starting from the top doesn’t mean we won’t get there. In fact, the climb might be the most rewarding part of our careers. Comparing our GPAs, resumes and internship opportunities to our neighbors doesn’t help anyone — it diminishes our happiness and keeps us from enjoying the institution we worked so hard to be admitted into.

Instead of looking at Brown’s reputation for ushering its graduates into employment as a source of comfort, many take it as a pressure to meet certain standards. Instead of grinning at the names of recent Brown graduates in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, many students worry they won’t reach that level of success in under ten years. The point is, your career path will inevitably be different from your peers and past Brown graduates. Becoming inspired and impassioned by looking at other’s achievements is what college is all about, but incessantly comparing yourself to others will inevitably lead to a feeling of disappointment. There will always be a child prodigy or overnight success that will make you feel a tinge of jealousy unless you decide, right here and now, not to live in someone’s shadow and instead commit to enjoying the power of now.

Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at fabiana_vilsan@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.