There’s a lot that I have learned in my first year of college. For example, attempting to do laundry on a Sunday afternoon is futile and waking up for an 8 a.m. class is not just as easy as it was in high school. The primary observation I have made since arriving at Georgetown, however, is that its focus on pre-professionalism has created a false sense of seriousness in the activities that are supposed to give us a taste of the real world and help us to figure out what impassions us. My resultant fear of failure disrupts creativity in every facet of campus life — not to mention my potential to mature and adapt. In order to achieve my full potential, I have discovered that treating extracurriculars as extracurriculars rather than careers depletes stress and perfectionism, and I gain significantly more value from the experience.
Over my spring break John Mulaney (COL ’04) marathon, I was struck by his line about his excitement at watching former President Bill Clinton, a Georgetown alum, be elected, because his parents “got to see someone they went to college with become president.” At Georgetown we often see our peers enter careers in public service, finance, consulting and other professional arenas. This manifests itself in an on-campus “mini-economy” that, in trying to emulate the experiences of the U.S. Senate, Goldman Sachs and Deloitte, precludes students from the opportunity to learn and grow.
There is a reason that the President must be 35 years old. None of us have reached the maturity, experience, and development levels required of the person with the nuclear codes. This is not to say that my classmates or even myself won’t ever be fit for the Oval Office, but rather that as long as we have about 15 more years of mandated waiting time, we should appreciate the time and space we have to grow rather than chastising ourselves for not being ready yet.
I’ve come to realize that the standards I set for myself as a perfect Georgetown student — to join the most exclusive clubs, to earn every leadership position, to develop the sharpest resume — are equivalent to those to which I’d hold a CEO or member of the Executive Office. Not only is that incredibly unreasonable, but in expecting so much of myself I have forgotten the importance of making and learning from mistakes.
In Mulaney’s most direct reference to Georgetown he says: “What is college … I went and I have no idea.” I have observed that college is predominantly people excessively managing their actions on the weekdays while being troublingly carefree on the weekends. In short, self-discipline seems to matter selectively. In this way, college is a not-so-free trial of life.
Every day at Georgetown I witness students make adjustments on a split second’s notice that would take most adults I know weeks or months to come to terms with. My friends at the Corp rearrange their studies when schedules get shuffled. In the same way, my fellow staffers at The Hoya jump at the opportunity to halt every copy emergency in its tracks. Part of the readiness with which we take on new challenges is the desire to learn from new experiences. However, another equally important aspect is that we understand that we are in a safe space where it is okay for our attempts to not go as planned. On campus clubs are designed to give us a space for trial and error before we enter professional sectors, and when we wholeheartedly embrace the opportunity to fail, we take bigger risks with inherently bigger rewards.
I’ve come to discover that this lesson applies beyond pre-professionalism and into daily life. Unconventional experiences — no matter how small — are almost always rewarding. In my case, learning to bee keep with the environmental club led me to discover a passion for environmentalism. For one of my best friends, joining club basketball became an outlet for stress and socialization.
While hard work pays off, there is no perfect formula for how that work manifests. As I look forward to the next three years, I’d like to think I’ll be able to find the perfect balance between pushing myself to take on responsibilities and realizing that my primary collegiate responsibility is making enough mistakes to learn to avoid them in the future. It’s not an exact science, however, I guess that’s why we’re given four years to figure it out.
Anne Poulos is a first-year in the School of Foreign Service.