First, Be a Man or Woman for Yourself

What does it mean to be a Boston College student?

This was the question that instructors posed to me my first week here at BC. This is the question that all new freshmen are asked when they come and sit down on the squeaky red chairs of McGuinn 121 during their orientation session. This is also a question that’s answer is readily given to us in a sparse number of words: Being a Boston College student is being a man or woman for others.

Like the school’s motto states, we are expected to excel beyond the goals that we set for ourselves. But in the midst of all this ever to excel-ing, we need to look into the state of our livelihoods and well-being. As great as it is to exceed expectations, it is significantly more important to truly care about yourself first. 

As soon as I started my first week of classes here, I found this saying to be more of an accepted fact of BC life than just a set of words attached to the school logo. By the end of September, it appeared as if every single person was doing every single activity imaginable: a cappella groups, CSOM societies, Model UN, The Heights—it didn’t really matter what people were a part of, really. What truly mattered seemed to be the fact that they were at least doing something.

You are expected to join clubs that complement your interests and passions—and should you be accepted into said clubs, it would only make sense for you to eventually apply for and receive an executive board position. The reality is, however, you’re up to your eyebrows with work, and you cannot even begin to imagine what the added pressure of running an organization would do to you. Your friends have already begun applying for internships early in the fall, or they’ve started networking from the very beginning of freshman year. 

Meanwhile, you aren’t even cognizant of what you’ll be wearing to the next football game, much less what profession you wish to commit to once you’ve graduated. There’s a party at the Mods next Friday, you don’t really want to go, but you fear that if you stay in your dorm to binge-watch Rick and Morty on Netflix, you’ll miss out on consequential happenings. And God forbid that you attempt to stop holding the universe together at any given time during a busy week.

The problem here isn’t that the University has established a set of expectations that it wishes its students will achieve and surpass. BC’s reputation as a prestigious school perpetuates the idea that all students should always be in motion. There exists this internal pressure to always be doing something or to always be a part of something at all times, and this is the case for many highly-regarded universities.

With this mindset, if you fail to conform to this expectation or dare to contest it through any sort of action—or rather, inaction—you’ll somehow erase yourself from the image of what a BC student should look like.

There is this inherent fear on campus that if a student fails to follow these so-called rules, they’ll cease to be part of the community. This is where we go wrong. 

The type of attitude of unstopping excellence that we’ve managed to develop as a community is not healthy, and it definitely isn’t sustainable. We get disappointed whenever we achieve anything less than what we deem “enough.” We despise ourselves for failing to succeed with flying colors the first time around. We place so much pressure on ourselves to reach the point of perfection when, in actuality, no such thing exists. I fail to see how anyone can keep this up without burning out, or without placing additional mental and emotional risks to their person.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to try and rattle the stars—after all, there is no excuse to stop growing. What I am suggesting is, however, that it is perfectly acceptable for you to put yourself first. 

Maybe you don’t want to change the world today. Maybe you don’t want to have to dress up and attend the next Career Fair. Maybe the last thing you want to do is go to your professor’s office hours in the hope of ensuring that he or she will match your name to your face correctly the next time you answer a question in your lecture of 137 students. That’s okay.

You’re allowed to take breaks. You have the right to take a little time for yourself to breathe. You can read that novel that you began before your classes started and demanded more and more of your attention. Your happiness and well-being matter so much more than the standards that you subconsciously adhere to because of the indirect pressure you receive from others. 

After all, how are we supposed to be men and women for others when we can’t first be men and women for ourselves?