The other day in the dining hall, I overheard a group of students exchanging academic horror stories much like old soldiers sharing their battle wounds.
“Four all-nighters in two weeks! Wow, the worst I ever had to do was three.”
“Well I have two p-sets and an essay due tomorrow morning, but I’ve only started on one of them. Looks like I’ll have to pull another sleepless night.”
They wore their tribulations as badges of honor, and their half-smiling, half-grimacing faces told of their grudging pride in their own resilience. Yet their bloodshot eyes, pallid skin and weary expressions belied a different truth, attesting to the weariness and exhaustion that lay suppressed under the façade of bravado.
It is all too easy, as a result of our immersion into Princeton’s culture, to feel that we must be perpetually struggling, or else we are not truly getting the whole “college experience.” I’ve only had to pull a few all-nighters during my time here (the grueling nights leading up to the R3 deadline for Writing Seminar come unbidden and unwelcome to mind), but from talking to peers and overhearing enough conversations, it becomes fairly obvious Princeton students share a common, borderline obsession with our struggles.
Frequently, though, waxing poetic about our difficulties is merely an outlet, an easy rationale, to explain and justify problems that are, more often than not, self-imposed. Ironically, after berating their professors for giving them so much work in such a short span of time, another group of students then started to talk about their plans to go to the Street later that night. Or to watch a movie. Or to go for a run. All instead of finishing the problem set they were just complaining about.
I’m not in any way condoning a cessation of all extracurricular activities on campus, nor am I suggesting that we as students should wholly devote the entirety of our time to purely academic pursuits. Nor am I even saying that talking about our struggles with each other is negative. Far from it.
It gives us common ground, and it can be reassuring to know that others are facing similar difficulties as the rest of us. However, I do think that we should be able to more clearly differentiate between real struggles and self-imposed ones. Having a friend sympathize with your arduous workload is inherently different from crying for attention — because, after all, when we brag about our struggles, what else are we trying to achieve if not attention?
In this way, bearing our struggles front and center has become our method of vindicating our efforts and attracting consolation from others to reassure ourselves that, yes, we are really doing our best, given the circumstances.
It has also devolved into an informal metric that we use to gauge our relative levels of struggle against each other (with “no all-nighters” being at the bottom of the struggle-o-meter and “no sleep for the past week” being at the top).
Jason Choe is a sophomorefrom Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.