In defence of doing absolutely nothing at Cambridge
From a world-expert in the field
I was always under the impression that once I got to Cambridge I’d no longer have to prove my self-worth to other people: I’d managed to get into the best university in the country, and demonstrated to all those who’d ever doubted me/been mean to me/didn’t invite me to their paint-balling party in Year 6 that, if I really put my mind to something, very little was out of the realms of possibility.
Don’t pretend this wasn’t you a little bit. All those gown-billowing matriculation photos on Instagram; all those ‘I can’t believe I go to Hogwarts’ cover photos from formals; all those Snapchat stories with the University of Cambridge filters. All of them exist to show off to others how great we think we are.
And that, I think, is a major problem. As I got to know people better throughout first year, I realised that many applied to Cambridge for the same reasons as me: they were dissatisfied in some way with their life, and Cambridge was a rose-tinted future where everything would be perfect.
Maybe you were being bullied? Maybe your home life was far from stable? Maybe something terrible and out of your control happened to you? Working towards getting here – slogging away hour after hour to get those elusive A*s – was an escape: you didn’t have to think about your issues when you’re learning King Lear quotes or how Long Shore Drift occurs.
Except then you get to Cambridge. And you realise that you’re still exactly the same person you were before, but you just live in a more impressive building. All the fears, insecurities and confusion you had before still exist, but you don’t have that support network of friends, family, or even teachers to help you through it, and the constant pressure to fill every single waking moment of your day leaves you with no time to work them through.
Whether it’s with academia or extra-curricular, there is an overriding sense in Cambridge that the more you do, the better, or more admirable you are as a person. It only takes one brief peruse of Linkedin to make you feel as though everyone is a future trainee solicitor or investment banker and has hours and hours of work experience under their belt. Everyone here seems to be a Blue, is president of some society, and still has time to thesp or journo on the side.
I remember in Week 6 of Lent term one of my friends messaged me from his room telling me it was the first night in that he'd had all term and he didn’t quite know what to do with himself. I was shocked. Yes, in Cambridge we’re living in halcyon days where we’re never more than 10 minutes away from our friends and there is always an abundance of things to see or do: the incredibly short 8-week terms mean we should make the most of it while we’re here.
However, as with everything in life, moderation needs to be exercised. This Tuesday was World Mental Health Day: an incredibly important day in a time where mental health issues are at epidemic levels. We live in a culture where there is an insatiable need to constantly compare ourselves to others. Look around you – it’s everywhere, from social media dictating how we should look and behave, to swaps where guys compare how many people they’ve slept with. It’s all lame and doesn’t mean anything.
So, stop comparing yourself to other people. If you want to play uni sport, perform in a play or sing in a choir by all means do. But do it because you want to, not for other people’s validation or for likes on an Instagram post. Often at Cambridge we're so busy that we forget what truly matters, and for me, that's simply being happy and healthy. And if that means that I spend an evening, or two, or seven, bingeing on Netflix, I’m more than happy to do that.