I cannot speak on behalf of all students, but, on a personal level, I feel like there exists a certain pressure to “campaign” on Harvard’s campus.
No, I’m not referencing all the Institute of Politics and Undergraduate Council candidacy emails that have been flooding your inbox in recent weeks. I’m talking about campaigning for others’ approval and admiration. Perhaps you’re already well-acquainted with the unrelenting desire that so many of us possess to be well-liked, well-known, and well-respected. While students before me have documented ad nauseam that the Harvard undergraduate population is replete with both athletic and intellectual perfectionists, less frequently mentioned but equally represented are the social perfectionists: the student body presidents, the homecoming royalty, and the people-pleasers.
In high school, I was the math club kid, the resident tryhard in your English class. By no means was I anything remotely close to Mr. Popular. Nonetheless, I hated the thought of being disliked, and I convinced myself that if I tried hard enough, I could make anyone my friend. I took great pains to be as involved as possible in extracurriculars, and I had this weird obsession with maintaining some imaginary approval rating among my peers. Every classmate was a potential voter, and I was aiming for a landslide victory in an election cycle that only existed within the perimeter of my own mind. Looking back, I can easily identify how this thought pattern led me to engage in a host of insincere, superficial relationships and, ultimately, prioritize others’ opinions and judgments over my own.
I guess I just figured that the habit would follow me in college, but I’ve been shocked by how quickly life since graduation has prompted me to reconsider what once was my default.
At the beginning of this semester, I, like many freshmen, was intentional about going to as many social events as possible. I wanted to network and make new friends. What I began to realize, however, was that I didn’t actually enjoy shallow conversations with people I didn’t know. I didn’t like spending my evenings chasing down new Instagram followers. And I really didn’t appreciate feeling like I needed to impress random classmates whom I had just met with some elevator pitch of how I was worthy of their time.
For some people, bouncing between dozens of friend groups and collecting a large number of contacts comes naturally. It works for them, and that is completely valid. Though I consider myself outgoing and genuinely enjoy meeting new people, I have come to the conclusion that I would prefer to spend my time cultivating a handful of meaningful, deep relationships over amassing an ever-expanding sprawl of acquaintances. You will sooner find me watching reruns of the Twilight Zone with a couple of buddies on a Friday night than attending practically any party on campus. There is absolutely nothing wrong with nightlife or seeking out opportunities to connect with new people, and rather than criticize anyone for living life how they see fit, I am hoping to affirm the legitimacy of everyone’s unique approaches to friendship and social life more broadly.
I am of the opinion that personalities are kind of like blood types. At the end of the day, my blood is simply not universally compatible. I can’t have a transfusion with any random individual on the street, and my personality isn’t necessarily meant to have an eternal marriage with everyone else’s. Neither I nor anyone else chose to have any particular blood type. I'm not going to contort myself trying to fit into someone else’s preferred mold and demand that I somehow be best friends with everyone I meet.
In the same way, we shouldn’t compromise ourselves or our values to win others’ approval, we shouldn’t expect drastic, transformational change in others either. Asking someone to rewrite their genetic code isn’t exactly fair. I can't expect someone else to put on my glasses and see the world clearly through them. While there are certainly some behaviors and attitudes that should not be sanctioned under the pretext of predisposition, I think the luxury of living in such a diverse world is that we can choose our own friends and associates: those with whom we feel most compatible.
So, please, don’t feel obligated to surround yourself with people with whom you do not resonate or put yourself in environments and social functions that you do not enjoy. This isn’t some wholesale warrant to be a jerk, but, hey, you don’t need to have a great deal of name recognition or be popular in the conventional sense to be happy. Find people that bring you joy, be authentically you, and give up trying to win everyone over.
Do yourself a favor, and stop campaigning.
Grant B. Williams ’25, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in the Prescotts.