I’m a high-achiever. Everyone at my school is, by definition, a high-achiever as well. See, whatever we did beforehand, it was good enough – by whatever measure of “good” the Princeton admission office uses – to get us here, and that comes with a certain amount of pressure to continue achieving. Though we are many different things, we are all good at impressing the gatekeepers.
And when we get here, we do just that. There are dozens of campus groups dedicated to excellence in all manner of pursuits: dramatic, academic, journalistic, and any kind of musical group you could name. Even our social lives are audition-based; not only does our participation in selective extracurriculars have large bearing on our social circles, but the Eating Clubs – the center of upperclassman social life – are self-selective. What this means is that things as basic as where we eat are determined by some level of achievement.
All this achievement takes time, and worse, mental resources. It’s obviously impossible to do everything, so we have to limit ourselves, to stay happy and sane. The problem is, we’ve all been taught that we’re special, that we’re limitless, that we’ll never fail, and that if we want to do something, go somewhere, get something, all we have to do is reach out and grab it.
So I reach out and snag a writing position with one hand.
A political club with the other.
Keep one foot in Intramural sports.
Left foot blue.
Right hand red – oh wait, you’re out of limbs.
But I promised I’d get this edited for her by Wednesday, and I have a problem set due, and I’ve given my Saturdays to band – I was told I could do anything I want, so why can’t I do everything?
I wasn’t too phased when I started dropping social commitments for my more “serious” ones – we’re adults, and adults have responsibilities sometimes. I was, however, rather shocked when I realized my default reaction to being invited to anything vaguely social was abject fear. And not the standard social anxiety of an introvert – that I was used to. This was feeling horrified that I wouldn’t be able to make it, and that if I didn’t make it that it meant that I was more behind on my work than everyone else, and if I’m behind everyone else that means I may need to drop one of my commitments to keep up and if I need to do that then I’m clearly incapable of achieving at the level of my peers and I shouldn’t be here and I’m just going to become a hermit or something.
My lashing out against commitments was simply adding another. What’s better is spontaneity: as when I allow friends to “kidnap” me to go see a movie – it’s not that Oz the Great and Powerful was particularly good, it’s just that escaping to a magical wonderland shows me that my commitments are not what I be.