Let’s take a moment to talk shit. Constructively.
As the school year begins, so do comments and discussions about students “getting their shit together.” To tidy said shit, we must complete some endless list of tasks, critically reflect of the state of the union regarding our lives, and somehow completely turn our entire lives around for the better. We imagine that when we get our shit together, our perpetually busy lives will become less hectic. Perhaps we’ll no longer spend more time living in states of stress than we do in our hometowns. I’m all for seeking self-improvement, but in this case, we’re feeding into an unproductive and unhealthy narrative based on impossibly high standards– those that require possessing superhuman ability or sacrificing mental, physical, and social wellness.
Coping with negative emotions and difficult experiences as well as trying and sometimes “failing” to balance academic, social, and extracurricular, priorities are all part of the human experience. We’re not supposed to know everything or have our lives “all figured out.” No one does or ever will. Being a student at an “elite institution” doesn’t mean you are or have to be perfect. In fact, some of the practices that you believe may have helped you gain admission there or maintain your “success”–perfectionism, a culture of stress, nights lacking sufficient sleep–aren’t actually healthy and don’t constitute a “perfect” lifestyle.
Another classic turn in this discourse is the idolization of peers who appear flawless, having achieved what we’re all aiming for without breaking a sweat. We cheer in admiration, disbelief, and slight envy, “she’s always so on top of things!” or “he has his shit together!”
Yet every time, without fail, the person whose work ethic and life balance we admire will deny the claim that her shit is together. She might merely laugh and shake her head or go as far as to reveal the lack of sleep she receives, the constant stress she feels, or her worries about all she is missing out on. She may feel slightly flattered that we buy into the illusion, whether it’s portrayed consciously or unintentionally. Alternately, she may feel further pressured to hide the troubles that we don’t see.
We never see the full story. And we know this: We’ve been told time and time again. We all know that behind the pretty photo of a pristine family clad in Vineyard Vines in the majestic Connecticut countryside lies a shit-ton of problems we can’t even begin to imagine.
Our culture is shit-averse. We struggle to endure our problems for too long, let alone to acknowledge that they exist. If we want to relieve the burden of unreasonable and arbitrary expectations, we need to accept that life isn’t real, dare I say worth living, without its messy parts. In sorting through our shit, we develop our character and values and become better prepared for the next shit show. Other times, the shitty parts of life simply stink and are difficult to reconcile and accept. But going through shit shapes us and makes the rosy parts of life seem even sweeter.
Often, we jokingly call our lives “a mess” and call ourselves “a hot mess.” Behind these half-hearted declarations lie the truths we’re dying to set free: we don’t always know what we’re doing or where our lives are headed! Sometimes, we feel like we’re screwing up! We’re confused because life is confusing! And you know what? That’s all okay! In shit we find strength, humor, and–if we dare to be honest with one another–solidarity and shared experiences.
We don’t get anywhere in life- whether good or bad, admirable or deplorable- without making assess out of ourselves and getting ourselves in some shit. It’s time we ban the concept of “having your shit together” and save that kind of shit-talking for sporting events and gastroenterologists. Instead of talking out of our asses, let’s abandon the expectation that we should be striving for perfection, for everything to be going well, at least seemingly. Let us use expressions that leave room for us to talk about everything we’re experiencing, whether shitty or rosy.