I felt like I was running on autopilot for the majority of my freshman year. I look back at pictures and try to remember what I spent all my time doing. I slept very little. I didn’t leave room for doubt as I went from class to meeting to lab to event to rally. I tried to balance my life in STEM while feeling an obligation to get involved in Act on a Dream, Fuerza Latina, and The Crimson. I didn’t have enough time to even consider that the place I was in was not working for me.
I give advice to first-years now that I wish I had been able to give to myself two years ago. I see them getting overworked and remember myself in their same spots when I felt empty as I spread myself so thin I didn’t have enough time for myself. Harvard promotes this culture as students get involved in multiple things and the pressure often falls on multiply-disadvantaged students as we feel responsible to take on all of the issues.
It took a huge reality hit as I realized I was not going to have the same financial security my sophomore year that I had my first year with the start-up grant of $2,000. I panicked at the thought of having to get a job and knew something was going to have to give. I felt immense guilt as I prepared to drop one of my board positions only to be surprised at how easy it was. The organization went on without me. The hit wasn’t as large for the organization as it would have been for me had I stayed.
It was with that first drop that I began learning how to manage my time. I learned how important it was to quit things that weren’t sustainable. Being passionate about organizations I was involved in was not enough. You can’t live your life in the service of others unless you learn to serve yourself first.
I felt guilty and selfish for shifting my focus to myself, but doing so has been one of the most important things I’ve learned in my time here. This is what gave me enough freedom to switch my concentrations as I shifted my focus to what I wanted, not what I thought my family would want for me.
It’s taken a lot of steps and development of the relationship I have with myself to recognize that my rest is also resistance. It’s taken relationships where I was putting in too much emotional labor and unpaid positions for me to recognize that my time is valuable.
It feels great to say no to requests that I would have only agreed to because I felt guilted into them. It feels great to now be able to say I’m getting compensated for most of the work I’m doing — and that it’s work I’m passionate about. I get compensated for my job in the admissions office reaching out to first-generation students. I get compensated for my research thanks to Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program. And I get compensated for writing these pieces thanks to The Crimson’s Financial Aid program.
I look back to the Audre Lorde quote and realize how simple it seems. It seems so instinctual that you should always be putting yourself first. I had assumed I was already doing that. It took too long for me to recognize I actually wasn’t.
Our oppressions and hardships have been transferred to the individual to the point where it becomes our responsibility to lift ourselves up from the anxiety, depression, and constant self-doubt and pain created by a system built for its own selfish motives. But we can’t fight that system if we keep tricking ourselves into believing we can do it all. We shouldn’t have to put on a brave face at all times. We must recognize our worth, give ourselves time to rest and heal, and get back out there when we know we can give the world our best selves. With radical resistance comes radical self-love.
Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a joint concentrator in History and Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.