How To Hack Everything

How to lose friends and win committee positions

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Whether you’re running for a JCR position, trying to get on a Blues team or going for the top job of Union Pres, Cambridge is a sink or swim environment where its every (wo)man for themselves and treading water may be harder than you think.

It’s a fairly simple equation. Take the crème de la crème of the student population imbued with a deep set sense of entitlement/overwhelming fear of failure (delete as appropriate) and place them in an environment where there are not enough sweeties to go around. What happens? The inevitable jostling and scrambling for the prizes ensues.

Upon reflection, it’s hardly surprising, I suppose, that Cambridge is a highly competitive environment. We’re all here because we made the cut and deprived some poor applicant of a place who’s probably now at Durham telling their friends they’re so glad they’re not at Cambridge anyway. Unless you do Classics, in which case congratulations, no one else saw the point in learning dead languages.

You’ve all heard of the small fish, big pond phenomena. At school having the Cambridge offer many have earmarked you as someone special, or at least intellectually superior. Once at Cambridge, there’s a palpable urgency to get the CV points and master the networking, and if you haven’t got that amazing graduate job lined up or a decent chance of getting a first, at least you can console yourself that you’re having a better time. There’s a reason why Cambridge mass produces bankers, consultants and lawyers unlike anywhere else. Behind the smiling façade of the carefree Cantab there’s a drive to succeed and a desire to be distinguished.

Is there such a thing as too much success?

Academic excellence is something to be expected of course and dare I say, here too there’s a burning urge to sort the best from the rest. Class lists weren’t abolished because if you worked all year you want all to see that your efforts paid off, or if you’re a last minute panic crammer it’s reassuring if others got the same- or worse. Though it may be unofficial and Trinity comes top every year, the Tompkins Table is still big news to watch the rest of colleges fight over the remaining spots.

Yet the sense of competition pervades Cambridge even to the most pointless, trivial level. The mere mention of how much work you’ve left undone is like throwing down an invisible gauntlet. If I say that I have an essay due in six hours that I haven’t started, there’s guaranteed to be someone with 2 essays due in 4 hours and someone else who must be more pitied because their supervisor simply hates them. My apologies, I did not realise I was entering into some competition of who has the most messed up life. And if you mention having a cold, you’d bet there’s someone out there probably dying of plague.

Simply the best?

Maybe it’s the insatiable thrill to win. From the most basic, inane things such as a game of pool, Rock Paper Scissors or who tops the chunder chart to the vaulting heights of sporting glory, most Cantabs appear to be programmed to aim for that top spot. Perhaps its why we’re so obsessed with Varsity sports matches against Oxford, because there’s a 50% chance of winning, and at worst you can still claim that you came second.

Yet Cambridge’s ruthless, aspiring attitude is something to be admired, after all, some of the biggest names and influences have walked through these hallowed halls. It may be through our tireless pursuit for perfection that we attain some sort of glory and numb our underlying sense of inadequacy.

Is this where I find a First?

But hey, if you’re feeling down whilst reading this as you’re not up to your eyeballs in the Union or rowing in the Boat Race, there’s nothing like writing for the Tab to boost your profile as well as your own sense of importance.

It may be one small step for a student, but it’s one giant leap into Cantab notoriety.