The Quest for Self-Love at a Small Liberal Arts College
Blogger: Samuel Wylie
Occidental is small. You’ll hear this fact in many different contexts. In the college’s promotional materials, it’s followed by an academic benefit: Occidental is small, so professors know and help you. When you take a campus tour, it’s followed by a logistical comment: Occidental is small, so you can walk to all of your classes in ten minutes or less. When you’re considering Occidental as your future, it’s followed by hesitation: Occidental is small, I’m scared it might feel too much like high school. When you’re a student, it’s followed by a social fact: Occidental is small. I know everybody and everybody knows me.
If you’re looking for a study buddy or weekend partner-in-crime, this statement is usually said with enthusiasm. If you’ve just had an argument with your study buddy or weekend partner-in-crime, however, it has heaviness to it.
When I make a mistake, it can seem crushing. Questions of severity race through my mind: Did anyone see me? Can I still get a good grade in the class? Is he going to tell his friends? Gone unchecked, it drives me crazy. Maybe I’m a little more neurotic than some of my peers, but I know these questions at least pass through most people’s minds. It’s a battle against myself for peace of mind, and it’s a difficult battle to win.
I go to a great school with a high-performing student body. There is pressure to do well here, a lot of which is internal. We see a classmate get an A on an assignment and feel we must do just as well. We hear stories about recent grads landing great jobs and think we have to get a great job, too. We see acquaintances having endless fun in facebook photos and believe that we, too, need to have a fantastic social life. In doing so, we start measuring “the inside of ourselves against the outside of others,” as my mom would say. Most of the time, we have no idea what our peers’ private lives are actually like. When we don’t meet our own expectations, we can implode.
The reality is that I’m not the smartest person at Occidental. I don’t have a 4.0 GPA to maintain and nobody is dying to have me join their corporate management team. I should exercise more, I spill food on my clothes a lot, and this morning I used the wrong form of “they’re/there/their” in an email to sixty people.
Despite all these things, I love myself. I don’t like all of my qualities, and I don’t like everything I’ve ever done, but I enjoy being around me. It’s taken me twenty-two years to get to this level, and there will always be relapses, but I’m on the road to self-love. Perhaps the most helpful thing that has allowed me to get to this point is the realization that I am not my failures. I am not the B- on my report card. I am not the spaghetti sauce stain on my nice white shirt. I am not the gaping void of unemployment after graduation. I am not that really bad make-out session I had with a guy last year. I’m not sure what I am, exactly, but I’m not those things.
So, at Oxy, when people see me trip on the library stairs, or when someone shoots me a dirty look because I didn’t hire their friend at the campus coffee shop, I remember why I love myself. I know I’m not the funniest person, but I can make myself laugh. I know I’m not the most selfless person, but I’ve made sacrifices for people. I value these things, and I don’t let my mistakes invalidate them.
Likewise, I try to remember that everyone around me faces the same challenge. We live in a world that tries to define us by GPAs and dollar amounts and acceptance letters. Too often, we believe our self-fulfillment is subservient to economic stability and social rapport. When we fail, it can seem like our whole personality is in jeopardy.
So, today, I’m going to let myself be smug because I got all my homework done. I’m going to swag a little when I walk to class because I think I look nice. I’m going to laugh at my own jokes and I’m going to sing in the shower. I’ll do it because I love myself, and I don’t care who knows.