From the moment we receive our Harvard acceptance letters, we are told that it was because of our potential. The potential to continue on our bright paths of success and excellence. But what happens when we hit a roadblock, stumble, or simply tumble right over?
The reality is that our Harvard acceptance letters, at times, come with a false sense of invincibility. We feel entitled in the sense that we expect to receive anything we’ve set our sights on. When our hard work, time, and effort results in failure or rejection, it crushes us — so much so that instead of learning from it, we avoid any and all situations that may not have a favorable outcome. In a world where everyone always wants to look like they are “winning,” we do our best to set it up so we always are.
During my junior fall, I entered the world of recruiting. While I focused on consulting internships, there were many people who cast a wide net and recruited for finance, consulting, tech jobs, and more. I remember having a conversation with someone who didn’t get any consulting offers but was having more success in other industries. They said that they wished they didn’t waste their time on consulting interviews because it wasn’t fruitful. This struck me as odd. I definitely didn’t enjoy the multiple rejections I also received in that season. However, I did ultimately come to view them as a sign that the job or firm was not for me, rather than feel cheated or bitter that I didn’t get an offer. If anything, the invaluable skill of interviewing for a job or even the cool opportunity to travel to another city to visit a company was a learning lesson in itself.
Nevertheless, I do understand this sentiment. Growing up as the “smart girl” before college, I can relate to the fear of failure. At that age, it was easy to feel like that was the entirety of my identity. Any failures at being smart would have been an attack on my personhood as I knew it. While I started growing out of this toward the end of high school and have since come into a strong understanding of who I am despite my intelligence and intellectual accomplishments in my time here, many Harvard students still struggle with this.
When failure is seen as an affront to one’s identity, it is an indication that we have confused who we are with what we do. Our rejection letters and denials, just as much as our wins and successes, do not solely define us. Getting to Harvard and remaining here does not mean that we will succeed at everything we attempt — our potential lies in so much more. Instead of allowing the devastation of failure to handicap us, we should humble ourselves. It is even more harmful to remain in a rosy bubble where we are guaranteed success because it will eventually pop. The less we expose ourselves to the opportunity to fail, the more tragic the result may be.
I will never forget what an older friend told me at my high school graduation: “Don’t confuse your journey with your destination.” It pulled my head out of the clouds I was floating in with thoughts of Harvard ahead of me. Our time at Harvard is just one part of the grander scheme of our lives. The struggles in our path that we will inevitably face here will prepare us for what comes after college. We may be at Harvard because of our potential, but the only way to assuredly succeed here and beyond is to boldly put ourselves in situations where we may fail but ultimately learn and grow from the experience.
Ifeoluwa T. Obayan ’19, a former Crimson Editorial Comp Director, is a Biomedical Engineering and Social Anthropology joint concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.