Trying hard isn’t cool.
From what I gather, if you really want to be considered impressive, you should be succeeding without trying.
We look up to “smart” people who crank out top grades and are never caught in confusion, but not if it’s because they show up to every class and study regularly–no one likes an uptight nerd.
We like people (especially of the womanly variety) to be attractive, but not to admit to spending significant time or effort on their appearance–what could be more vain, boring, and desperate than that?
As if it’s not enough to be an overachiever, you have to be an overachiever and a slacker at the same time.
So what does it mean if I care a lot and try really hard at lots of things? What if I am able to do a lot more because of it? What if that’s the case for a lot of people?
Now I don’t mean to endorse the view that hard work alone is the answer to everything. It is possible to get so wrapped up in working hard for it’s own sake that you’re not actually furthering any goals (speaking from experience). And I definitely wouldn’t be the first to point out the limitations of the American-Dreamy myth that hard work (and bootstrapping) in itself is enough to guarantee success.
But this other kind of American Dream–of cool and effortless success based on casual awesomeness–is only more exclusive and limiting. With effort and concern dismissed as desperate, the assumed key to success is inherent brilliance. And of course, whether or not you believe you have that gift is affected by things like race, gender, class, and educational upbringing.
So what are you supposed to do if you don’t see yourself on an painless path to the top? Of course one option is to give up. Another, particularly common in overachieving environments, is to fake it: downplay how long and hard you actually worked, never let them see you sweat, and shrug off your biggest accomplishments as no big deal.
While Columbia sometimes seems to be filled with enviably talented slackers who are killing it in their sleep, I’m sure this image is somewhat inflated by all the closet try-hards, putting on their very best “don’t care” face to cover up signs of genuine concern and effort.
Because trying your best and admitting it makes you vulnerable: then judgements of your work actually mean something about you.
If you show someone your work with the disclaimer “Made this an hour ago with no sleep and a serious hangover–don’t judge,” you’re safe. If it’s good, you’re showing your effortless, nonchalant genius. If it’s bad, your failures are written off as you not caring anyway.
But admit “I’ve been working really hard on this all week,” and it’s a different story. If it’s bad, what does that say about you and your intelligence? What does it mean to show that you gave your all and it’s still not enough?
Maybe it means you’re kind of pathetic–but most people are at some point, whether or not you’ve seen it (your failure isn’t all that unique). And it also means that you have the self-confidence to not let your concern with looking good stand in the way of getting better–which is no small accomplishment in world of ego-management. It means you’re poking a whole in the facade of effortless perfection, a low-key hero to other impostor syndrome-sufferers.
It means you’re more of a sweaty hot mess than a cool one. I’ll take that; we could use some warmth and energy around here.