Barely turned in problem set, class until 10 p.m., research paper due tomorrow—we’ve all been there. We walk into the dining hall looking for sustenance and sympathy when we put our bag down next to a familiar face. Instead, we get our worst nightmare: a story topper.
By definition, a story topper is someone who can outdo any tale no matter how outlandish—be it related to workloads, extracurricular activities or relationships. On your worst day, story toppers make you want to go for their jugular. Story toppers are emblematic of Harvard students’ hypercompetitive streak—often to the point of absurdity. If you’ve never had an experience with a story topper, chances are that you are one.
The inevitability of going to a school like Harvard, ranked number one in the U.S News & World Report rankings, is that you will meet people who are better than you at. most things. But tensions can arise when the best and brightest are thrown together on one—albeit sprawling—campus. With its inherent ability to breed competition, Harvard houses more than its share of the most insidious story toppers around. They always seem to have more papers due than their peers, longer waiting periods for the shuttle, and an endless compulsion to one-up their friends’ complaints. The result? While they inevitably “win” their complaint wars, the process is frustrating and overwhelming for all.
While story topping is openly acknowledged to be annoying and crass, the practice has also unfortunately become a Harvard practice that perpetuates a pretentious and often spiteful competitive spirit on campus. Sadly, the one-upmanship of story topping has become a source of pride for many.
Story topping in the academic and extracurricular arenas “rewards” the people who are the busiest, most stressed and closest to their breaking points by making them seem ever more impressive for their busy schedules. Given the mental issues that stress can incite, we should not be harboring a tradition that promotes the idea that more anxiety means more success.
Before we mentally or verbally condemn our friends for giving us the sardonic “Oh, really?” after we voice our endless complaints, we should take a moment to sympathize with our obviously delusional story-topping friends. We each seem to believe that our life is harder than our neighbor’s, and this could be the source of our unwillingness to sympathize with others. While I once thought the description of Harvard as “cutthroat” was incorrect, I now understand that the adjective more accurately describes our personal lives than our academic ones.
We need to realize that we’re all busy and highly motivated. But until we start supporting each other in our respective endeavors and sympathizing with each other’s complaints, our mantra will continue to be “I Am Fine.” Next time, instead of labeling friends who complain about stress as “weak” and trying to put them in their place by complaining even further, let them vent. Tell them what they need to hear—rough stuff, get some sleep, and good luck. We are a community and should consistently act like one.
Preetha Hebbar ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.