Senior Anxiety: An Interview

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By Ruby Samuels

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short article about senior anxiety and how to deal with it. It’s a big world out there, outside this all-inclusive, vitamin bubble called college, and I want the seniors reading this to know that they are not alone in their terror.

So, I found two anonymous seniors at Columbia University, both women in long term relationships, to give The Barnard Voice their perspective on the impending roller coaster that is adulthood.

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What are you most worried about in terms of leaving college and entering the “real world”?

A: I’m definitely most worried about housing. I’m used to supporting myself with my job for the most part, but haven’t had to pay rent which is a major change. I can’t imagine an additional $1000 bill each month with the job I have and I need three years experience to get a better one. Not to mention, just the logistics of finding a place in my budget, that is hopefully within an hour of my workplace by train, is a challenge. There’s also just a lot of unfamiliar territory there like wtf is a broker’s fee? That sort of thing.

B: In the “real world” there is no structure–no one guiding you or looking out for you along the way. I’m scared about losing control over my career because there are no “due dates” anymore.

What sort of conversations with your partner or inner monologues with yourself have you had about how graduating and trying to find a job will impact your relationship?

A: We’ve talked about how post-grad life will affect our relationship a lot actually. The main thing we are negotiating now is a difference in graduation dates. I’m graduating early, and she’s graduating late creating this weird space where she is tied to NYC, and I can’t afford to live in NYC without living with her mom (which I really don’t want to do). As it is, she lives in Queens, and I’m ridiculously busy with school and work, so we’ve figured out how to make things work when things get hectic on the emotional front. Right now we are more concerned with the practical logistics. We’ve talked about temporarily moving back to my hometown to save money and take care of my sisters, but the weird year/year and a half before she graduates will most likely be the hardest part. Does she meet me in MI? Do I work/live here until she can come with me? I’m confident we’ll figure it out when the time comes.

B: My partner and I have talked about the possibility of breaking up post-graduation due to physical distance and practicality. It is something we are still trying to work through and figure out, and obviously things may change as we figure out what jobs we will get/where we will be.

If you have any sort of self-doubt about your ability to find a job and be otherwise “successful” after college, what does that doubt look and feel like?

you-is-tired-you-is-broke-you-is-adulting-14526940A:  Boy oh boy yeah, there’s a lot of self-doubt, honestly. Imposter syndrome is so real. At the same time, I do generally feel competent to perform a lot of jobs, but constantly not meeting the minimum qualifications is very frustrating. I remember job hunting last year and being so discouraged because here I am getting this great education, feeling pretty on my shit, but I couldn’t even get interviews in food service or retail. These days, it’s manifested in very methodical planning and taking an “everything will work out in the end” attitude. I’m not particularly positive what the space between where I am and where I want to be will or should look like, but I’m hoping if I just follow some formula the pieces will fall into place. It’s this weird combination of “I have control of my own destiny” and “no point stressing about what I can’t control” that doesn’t leave much room for self-doubt. That not stressing part is definitely the harder part.

B: My concern is about getting into medical school after college. While part of me is happy about graduating from a school like Columbia, another part of me is scared that I was not provided the proper social experiences at the school that are necessary for becoming a doctor, this is likely due to the high academic stress level and the competitive nature that is inherent in many STEM classes here.

How does being at an Ivy League school influence your senior stress level?

A: Huh. I think the fact that I’m in between class years has helped me a lot, because my friends aren’t set in their post-grad plans yet, so there is less for me to compare myself to. That being said, being surrounded with thousands of excruciatingly competent and intelligent people does bring on some very capitalistic anxiety, like, “oh shit, this is my competition”. When I look at everyone else and then back at my painfully bare resume, with no internships or many extracurriculars, I panic a little bit. The atmosphere of constantly trying to make comparison without knowing their full context just breeds stressed and *nudge nudge * alienation.

B: There are definitely higher expectations because I will be graduating from an Ivy League, both from family and friends outside of Columbia and friends within Columbia. Everyone expects more of you, there is a higher standard of “success” at Columbia.

What do you think will be most important for you to be fulfilled and happy after graduation?

A: Honestly I think I’m going to be happy as long as I can make enough where I don’t have to pinch every penny, and I am able to support myself fully. I think moving back home, like in my parents’ house, would feel like a failure to me, even though I know it’s normal. I think being in the Midwest effects that a lot though. In NYC, I know tons of people who live with their parents both because of different cultures and the skyhigh rent. In Michigan, it’s more common to just move out as soon as possible, often right after high school. Rent is dirt cheap though, so it would be easy for me to rent an entire 2 bedroom apartment on my relatively low paying (by NYC standards) 15 hrs a week job.

Generally I don’t think it’ll take much to feel fulfilled. I just don’t want to be stuck barely getting by.

B: I would like a stable gap year job and hopefully during that year get into a good medical school 🙂

Have you burned all the bridges or do you feel confident in the network that you have for finding jobs?taken-linkedin-meme-duncan1

A: I think networking – or lack thereof – is one of my other major anxieties. I still don’t really get what that means? Can you just meet successful people, add them on LinkedIn, and get a job from them 5 years later? I’m banking on sheer force of will and my dazzling charisma to get jobs.

B: I think one of the things that Columbia is very good at providing is a good social network, and I hope that will come in handy in the near future.

What would you tell other seniors who are similarly stressed?

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A: It’s easier said than done, but basically just try not to dwell on the future too much. Yes, you need a plan, but once you have that plan, come back to the present and take it step by step, knowing the pieces will fall into place as you go. Get a credit card to build credit. Scope out which schools you wanna apply for, if that’s your thing, and write down important dates like when apps open and are due. Figure out how the fuck student loans work.

Also, you might not feel all that spectacular in comparison to your peers here, but I guarantee businesses will think you are. In my opinion, the most dangerous part of Columbia stress culture is the constant feeling that you aren’t doing enough. You are. I promise. Get some sleep please.

B: Everyone has their own definition of “success” so don’t worry if your view of it does not match up with the view of your friends or fellow peers. I am fully confident that we will all be successful in our own way, and just don’t give up on getting there!  

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Chickens and the Ivy League

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by Sinead Hunt

If you’re anything like me, these past few weeks have been characterized by an unrelenting barrage of exams, papers and deadlines, with no discernable finish line in the foreseeable future. Your celebration over the completion of one assignment is almost certain to be overshadowed by yet another looming deadline, as this semester’s midterm season drags on. If you have ever felt overwhelmed by school work, internships, and the overall pressure to succeed, then you too have felt the effect of Barnard/Columbia’s toxic “stress culture.”

In light of recent events, including an ill-conceived “time management calculator” recently circulated within the Columbia Buy Sell Memes page, you would have to be living under a rock to have never heard the term “stress culture.” As the term has become firmly ingrained in the lexicon of Barnard/Columbia students, there have been numerous attempts by the administration to deal with this insidious pandemic. From limiting the number of credits students can take to expanding access to mental health services, members of the community, including students, faculty and administrators are all struggling to discover a panacea for stress culture.z 

No place better embodies Columbia’s stress culture than Butler Library. On Sunday nights, Butler’s atmosphere is perfectly dismal, the intimidating silence punctuated only by the furious clacking of student’s typing. While Butler’s formidable presence is expected, however, even the social spaces on campus have been co-opted as oppressively silent study spaces.22-memes-youll-only-understand-if-youre-about-to--2-30792-1492602277-1_dblbig

Who should be held accountable for this school’s pernicious stress culture? While I acquiesce that there are many things the administration could be doing to mitigate stress culture, it is equally important to consider what we as students could be doing right now to foster a healthier, less stressful environment.

After my first semester at college, I was struck by the story of an evolutionary biologist by the name of William Muir. In an effort to better understand the relationship between competition and productivity, Muir set out to measure the productivity of chickens. He separated his hens into two distinct groups, the first of which being a collection of simply “average” chickens. The second group was a carefully selected cross-section of the most productive chickens, also known as “super chickens.” Each generation, Muir selected only the best egg-layers to place into this elite flock. After six generations, Muir examined the egg production of both groups.

we are all super chickens, willing to do whatever it takes to maximize our own productivity

The results of Muir’s experiment were shocking. If egg-laying is a heritable trait, then simple evolutionary biology dictates that the latter of the two flocks, the group of “super chickens,” should have been more productive than their average counterparts. However, contrary to expectation, it was the average flock that thrived, increasing egg production by 160%. And what about the super chickens?

They pecked one another to death.super_chicken_by_shway__dude

Muir found that the individually productive chickens had achieved their success at the expense of their neighbors, suppressing their peers’ egg-laying so as to maximize their own. The intense competition among these super chickens, rather than increasing productivity, actually led to the demise of their flock.

The results of this study resonated with me on a personal level. From the moment I arrived on campus, I knew that the vast majority of my classmates had been at the top of their class in high school, and came to college with one simple objective: to succeed. In other words, we are all super chickens, willing to do whatever it takes to maximize our own productivity, even if it comes at the expense of our neighbors. At this point, I could regale you with countless stories of times where my classmates and even my friends reified this toxic ethos of competition through both words and actions.  From my best friend who only agreed to share her notes with me “because the class isn’t curved,” to the classmates who made me feel ashamed of a 96, stress culture is ultimately perpetuated by us, the students. While the administration certainly needs to make a concerted effort to address this culture of competition, we, the students, too must critically examine our inordinate emphasis on success. As long as we normalize unhealthy practices in the name of academic success, we are complicit in the further perpetuation of an unhealthy stress culture that is bad for all members of our community.

 

One Week in The Social World Has Me Rethinking the Basis of My Identity

 

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By Sinead Hunt

This semester, in a dual attempt to a) become a much more well-rounded student and b) fulfill Barnard’s “Thinking About Social Difference” requirement, I enrolled in “Introduction to Sociology: The Social World.” Although it is still early in the semester, this class has already managed to challenge my most fundamental conception of my identity.

As an economics major, I’m used to grappling with difficult mathematical concepts, to stripping people of their humanity and viewing them as the mere sum of their economic transactions. If economics is cold and calculating, then sociology is the diametric opposite. In order to understand the forces that drive individual human behaviors, sociologists fully integrate themselves into people’s daily lives. They infiltrate churches and schools, hospitals and boardrooms, camouflaging themselves in order to produce writing that is both academic and intimate.

sociology.pngThis week, as part of our examination of the development of the self, we studied the work of George Herbert Mead, who is best known for his theory that a person’s identity is developed through their social interactions. At first I was rather resistant to Mead’s idea of identity formation through “social experiences and activities,” mostly because I have always tended to avoid social interactions. However, one thing I have learned thus far is that regardless of whether or not you subscribe to certain social norms, they nonetheless govern your life. Just because I was an anti-social preschooler doesn’t mean that I am the rare exception to Mead’s theory. Even as a four year-old, my fierce independence was fueled by the self-aggrandizing delusion that I was somehow above my peers, above my teachers, and most of all, above the patronizing institution of pre-K.

2f242f718d575fbc3adf7e286cb47095Mead believed that play is integral to children’s formation of identity, as it allows children to take on different roles, thereby adopting the perspective of others. I remember distinctly that one day I was playing with a friend of mine, Amanda, when she imperiously announced that she would play the role of a princess and I her servant. I               still remember bitterly choking down tears as

I began to feel an acrid mixture of rage and resentment. I also remember feeling unbridled glee when I turned the tables on Amanda by channeling my pent up feelings of injustice into revenge. Play allowed me to experience of wide range of perspectives, all from the comfort the comfort of my home.

Mead posits that at a certain point, children’s conception of “self” is transformed by what he refers to as the “generalized other.” This is to say, when you are a very young child, your sense of self is predicated upon how your family members and caretakers perceive you. As you move out into the world, however, and begin to interact with those outside of your family circle, your identity is increasing influenced by how you think others perceive you. Your sense of self is increasingly predicated upon what you believe society expects of you.

In class, our professor asked us one simple question: “Who do you think you are?” She instructed us to summarize our identity in one word and write it down in our notebooks. As those around me diligently obeyed her directive, I couldn’t help but pause. The first thing I thought to write was “smart.” For about as long as I can remember, I have identified as “smart,” predicating not only self-worth, but the very essence of my sense of self upon my intelligence. When I was very young, I had no conception of my own intelligence or abilities. I felt no ambition, no desire to achieve, no impulse to prove myself to anyone: I simply just existed. Mostly I was content on fulfilling my own preschool version of hedonistic desires, which mostly consisted of fruit snacks.

It wasn’t until second or third grade that I began to internalize what my teachers thought of me. My teachers expected me to achieve, so in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, I began to achieve at high levels. My mother once recounted to me a horrifying story about her coming home, only to discover that nine-year-old me was stressing about an upcoming state science exam. When she asked me why I felt so anxious, I responded that I had heard the teachers talking about me, and they had expressed a certainty that I would get a perfect score. Suddenly, I felt not only an obligation to perform well, but to perform perfectly. My intelligence, my achievement and my sense of self became inextricably and dangerously linked.

The moral of the story? Sociology will fuck you up.

 

New Yorker Cartoon linked here

Edited by Ruby Samuels

 

Country House Butterscotch Brownies : The Best Blondies You’ll Ever Eat (Recipe from Martha Dixon’s Copper Kettle Cook Book)

 

By Olivia Nathan

 

Full disclosure: This recipe is from one of my mom’s favorite cookbooks and she taught me to make it a couple years ago. I have made it for my Dad’s birthday, for my Mom’s birthday, and for lonely Friday nights. Despite it being the easiest thing to make and baking them successfully all the previous times (AKA creating the most heavenly, gooey, coconuty treat ever), on Valentine’s Day this year I used baking soda instead of powder and also burnt them. My boyfriend ate one and said it was, “Still good”. He’s a theater major at Tisch and I told him the classes were really paying off…

 

1/3 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg, unbeaten

1/4 t salt

3/4 cup sifted enriched flour

1t baking powder

1t vanilla

1/2 cup coconut

1 6 oz. package semi sweet chips

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I prefer pecans)

 

Melt butter in medium-sized saucepan. Cool. Add sugar, egg, salt, flour, baking powder, and vanilla. Blend the above ingredients; then add coconut, chocolate chips, and chopped nuts. Spread in greased 8 or 9” square pan. Bake 25 minutes in moderate oven, 350 degrees. These are quick and delicious.

 

Join PROJECT PENGYOU for Discussion and Dance!

Have you ever wanted to learn about folk dance? Have you ever wanted to try it? Now’s your chance!

Join PROJECT PENGYOU on Saturday, April 15th at 6pm in Lerner West Ramp Lounge for a discussion about folk dance– specifically American Contra Dance!

Anyone interested in trying contra can join them for a beginner’s lesson and group dance downtown in West Village! They’ll leave campus at 7pm and head down to 14th Street together.

Tickets for the lesson are $10 at the door.

Check out their FB page HERE! 

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Who is PROJECT PENGYOU?

Project Pengyou works to empower and mobilize a new generation of cross-cultural bridge-builders to serve, inspire and transform lives. They aim to lead the fight against systemic xenophobia and to build leadership and power through stories, dialogue, and action.

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