College students should stop glorifying failures
As college students, it seems we’ve unlocked the next level of suffering. We spend hours in the library frantically working on whatever project or essay we’ve been putting off for way too long. We survive on black coffee, french fries, and desperation. We stay awake through the night; we spend wildly and then wonder where our money has gone. We start partying at sundown on Thursday and don’t stop until Sunday morning. This time of our lives is somehow fantastic and unbearable all at once—and each of us feels a twisted sense of pride when it turns out our suffering is worse than somebody else’s.
In truth, a little healthy competition isn’t a bad thing. In areas such as academics, sports, and work, competition can help us evaluate our own performance and set reasonable expectations while driving us to put forth our best efforts and refuse to settle for less. Unfortunately, these benefits don’t exactly apply to all areas of life.
Bragging about only getting 2 hours of sleep last night or having the most difficult class schedule of all time often feels like harmless comparison between friends—but when you do that, you're thoughtlessly belittling the experiences of others and putting yourself at the center of the conversation. It’s crude, it’s uncalled for, and it’s annoying.
To be fair, most of us do have it pretty bad. Engineers are known to have horrifically taxing schedules; two hours of sleep would turn anyone into a zombie. It’s not healthy to bottle up all one’s grievances for the sake of not burdening anyone else.
But the correct response to a friend’s complaint is not to immediately shift the conversation to your own problems and how they’re so much worse. This knee-jerk response makes sense on some level; it’s natural to want others to know that we understand where they’re coming from. However, there is a massive difference between relating to someone and redirecting a conversation to oneself. These constant, unnecessary comparisons have turned life into a perverse competition that no one can win.
For some reason, the general opinion seems to be that problems are only real and worthy of being griped about if they are worse than those of anyone else in the room. After all, it feels a bit silly to complain about suffering from only six hours of sleep if everyone you know has been surviving off three hours a night for weeks.
However, this way of thinking is incorrect and extremely harmful. Once we begin to take some small amount of pride in getting a 27% on a test or having only $3.79 in our bank accounts, we find it easier to rationalize our mistakes. Horrible decisions become proof of a fun, carefree attitude.
Of course, as college students, we’re bound to make bad choices and it would be foolish to try and avoid them altogether. However, there is a small, dangerous triumph in hitting a worse rock bottom than anyone else. If you had to fail, at least you failed with flying colors.
What one should view as a low point from which to grow and learn becomes a nothing more than a fun story of how wild and ridiculous one is—and after a while, it gets old hearing a hundred different versions of the same messy, drunken gameday story.
All of this is not to say that no one should ever make a mistake. We’re in college. This is inarguably the best time to make mistakes, so long as we learn from them. However, it’s too easy to feel as if having the worst screw-ups make you the winner of some imaginary contest.
There is no contest and there is no prize, but there is also no need to despair at this. Sometimes you will get the least sleep or have the most stress, and that’s perfectly okay. As a matter of fact, that’s life. The key is not to settle in and be complacent, but to use low points as motivation to strive for new heights. Rather than take solace in being the best at being the worst, find comfort in the fact that there is nowhere to go but up.
Lota Erinne is a sophomore majoring in finance and English. Her column runs biweekly.