I do not have my shit together
This may be Cambridge but I don’t think anyone else does either.
Unlike Chandler Bing during his quitting-smoking period, I am not a strong, confident woman.
It can be fashionable to not have your shit together. If you haven’t read the book when it’s two hours before the deadline, if you haven’t been to a lecture all year, or if your laptop is destroyed in a freak blimp accident, then at least, in a way, it’s glamorous. If you manage to get through your crisis, you’re an Accomplished Adult. You’re St George, and you have stabbed that dragon into the next life.
I’m not like that. I do my work on time (usually) and I can cook pasta without burning it. Sometimes I even stick tomato sauce in it too. And I am, despite all the jokes, genuinely happy here; but I’m not strong, I’m not confident, and it always feels like everything is one crisis away from going down the tubes.
In an environment like Cambridge where you’re under constant pressure to look like you can juggle everything effortlessly, where people show up with perfect eyeliner to 9ams and there’s an unspoken belief that even people complaining about how badly they’re failing aren’t actually failing, it can feel like being insecure is the cardinal sin.
I mean, you made it to Cambridge, right? Aren’t you meant to be the poster child for having your life figured out, with your Garamond-impeccable CV and endless internship opportunities? Insecurity isn’t as impressive a dragon like a deadline in two hours, but it’s also much harder to slay.
Truthfully, I think a lot of people in Cambridge are like this, but people don’t admit it. I will say to my friends here ‘oh god, my essay was so shit’, even though, truthfully, I don’t think it was shit. I might think it was mediocre, which is what I meant, but there is no middle ground between ‘absolute success’ and ‘absolute failure’ here.
But when it comes to things I am legitimately worried about, like ‘I’m not actually sure how many notes I am meant to take for reading’ or ‘Is my vocabulary in essays too simple to display technical knowledge?’ or ‘Do I talk too fast and alienate people because I’m nervous’, I would feel silly saying it to a supervisor. If I told most other students that, it would feel like giving them a set of darts and strapping myself to a comically large dartboard.
And that’s stupid, because they’re lovely people and I’m sure they’d consider impaling me very unsociable, but it’s not about them. It’s about me. An aspect of the very competitive atmosphere here is feeling like you’re constantly being judged, weighed up. So we over-exaggerate our failures, and at the same time make them vague, general or false, so that we won’t be scrutinised further.
It’s not just an academic thing. I hate the term ‘late bloomer, but it’s descriptive enough in my case. I started using makeup and pierced my ears this year,I’ve never dyed my hair and I have no idea what silicones may or may not do to it. Eyeliner is sorcery to me. And as a young woman, I don’t want to go out to the Espresso Library with my half-baked makeup amongst a lot of other young women who look like they absolutely Have Their Shit Together. I’m not being judged by other people but I feel like it.
It’s ten times worse if you think of all the stresses on our image here, everything from gender to socioeconomic background influencing how people see and interpret us. Even our colleges. I can’t tell you how many people have mentioned their college to me and followed it with that little self-deprecating laugh.
But you know what I think lies partly at the heart of this? Most undergraduates haven’t even hit their 21st birthday yet. I’m 19. In a fair few countries I can’t even drink, and yet I’m meant to have everything in balance – good essays, member of societies, socially at ease, go out, maintain impeccable Instagram account, have enough jeans, know enough about the Cold War, have semi-regular sex. It’s too much. We see the highlight reels of other people’s lives, and expect ourselves to make our normal lives be like that.
It’s okay for us to both be intelligent and not have our shit together, because we’re somewhere around 2 years into our adult lives. We have time to dye our hair and read Skelton. We’re allowed to still be getting there.
So, Tab readers, let me tell you: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But somehow, I’m still managing to do things. And so are you.