The balance between optimism and realism
The fine line is more like a 95% confidence interval
Two weeks ago I took my first break from this column since it started, which is to say, I got more hosed than I’ve ever been. It pained me to not keep up a commitment I had implicitly agreed to fulfill, especially because it was to something I cared about so deeply. But this semester has truly been a special hell, largely due to what my history professor deems “Zoomitis,” topped off with a dash of sociopolitical upheaval.
If you’ve even so much as glanced at MIT Confessions in the past couple of months, you can’t have missed the sharp increase in confessions about stress, burnout, and deteriorating mental health. Even though I can generally cope with the mounting workload and my own procrastination, what makes me the saddest about this semester is watching my friends go through the same struggles. The confessions have generated worry in not only me, alumni, and some instructors, but also, alarmingly, prefrosh.
CP* starts this weekend — and I feel like I’ve already talked to too many adMITs who worry about staying afloat here. I won’t waste my breath repeating the arguments for choosing MIT (we’re just more vocal about the same struggles most university students face; the strongest bonds are forged through all-nighter psets; you get a strong foundation that sets you up for success) because you can find them written much more compellingly elsewhere.
Being a pre-med, I’ve talked to many students with an especially pronounced fear of the rigor of MIT. With the spotlight on your grades and opt-in P/NR being un-optable, it can be daunting. My immediate response is always to talk about how helpful our Prehealth Advising office is, or how the faculty supports students to achieve their potential. While this is all true, that doesn’t make the classes any easier. Should I gloss over the organic chemistry exam where the mean was a 50 but, as the professor told us with a chuckle, that a professor at another university said his students would probably get a mean of about 20 on?
Talking about my experience here often makes me conflicted. A part of me wants to say, straight up, “You’re going to get destroyed here.” The other part could list the million memories that have made my MIT experience something I’d never give up. While the two answers seem like polar opposites, they’re actually intertwined.
When people outside of MIT have that half-shocked look after I tell them what daily life is like, I instinctively back-pedal and overcorrect. But when I oversell how much I love my professors, clubs, and living communities, I worry that I’m being disingenuous.
Where’s the balance between finding the silver linings on stormy clouds and blatantly pretending that everything is great? “Ordinary-ish People” by AJR says, “Your happy friends call you depressing / Cause you wonder why we're all alive / Your downer friends think you're too happy, too happy / Cause you still celebrate sometimes.” It’s helped me come to terms with the fact that it’s probably impossible to find an outlook that everyone will agree with.
If I’ve learned anything from my classes at MIT, it’s that nothing is objective. Even in STEM classes, everything we learn is constantly being pulled into question. How biased are our experimental results due to our methods? What other factors could explain this outcome? The way that I experience my life can be filtered through many different lenses, from rose-tinted ones to deep-fried memes to sobering forlornness.
This semester might be the hardest that many of us have experienced. What I will say is that, when I find the time to catch up with my friends, you won’t believe how full my heart will be reminiscing about the shenanigans we’ve been through together. And both of those sentences are equally important to write.