I really, really like getting my way. It’s my favorite thing, after dogs sneezing and grown men crying (and, of course, nut butters). I get my way a lot. If convincing arguments fail, I’m not above shedding a few tears. Bribery is a tried -and-true method, too, as is blackmail. So when the Committee on University Majors rejected my proposal for the second time, I tucked some eye drops into my pocket and prepared for battle.
But let me back up. How does the Committee on University Majors reject one’s proposal twice, you might ask? The answer is this: there are two deadlines to apply for the university major, October 1 and April 1. (For those who aren’t familiar, the university major is the self-designed major; you’re to draw from two or more departments. Past university majors have included translational biology and disability studies.)
Back in October of last year, I submitted my original proposal. The committee wrote to me a few weeks later to say that it couldn’t accept the proposal, but that I should revise it and submit it again. Between October and January, I revised and refined my idea—comparative literature—and wrote what I thought was a convincing justification for the major. But apparently the committee didn’t find it so convincing, because it said no. Again. And I was pissed.
You see, dear reader, I felt that an injustice had been committed against me. It seemed so obvious: why in the world couldn’t I major in something as basic as comparative literature at Wesleyan? Who exactly would I be hurting if I were to major in something not offered by a department or program?
There’s nothing quite like being scorned and being sure you’re right, so I geared up to make my case. I pictured myself marching into President Roth’s office, the wind at my back, bringing a lawsuit against the University (on what grounds, I wasn’t sure; I’d figure that part out later), making them sorry for ever having doubted me and the field of comparative literature. Let it go? That was for feeble-minded, simpering people without a shred of dignity.
I’ve always been quick to tell people they’ve been wronged, or to tell that to myself. When my friends are scorned by their potential suitors, I quickly assure them that the other party is missing out, insane, stupid. The response is so instinctive to me that I don’t even realize I’m doing it. When things don’t go my way, or my friends’ ways, I place the entirety of the blame on the person standing in my way to getting what I want or what the people I care about want.
At the same time, however, when things go my way, I’m perfectly comfortable taking all of the credit. I don’t think I’m the only one who does this. When you do poorly on a test, it’s obviously the professor’s fault for writing unclear questions or not adequately teaching the material, right? When you do well, then there’s only one explanation: you studied hard, or you’re naturally gifted, or possibly both. This phenomenon is called self-enhancement bias, and it ensures that we maintain robust self-esteem. Basically, we delude ourselves into avoiding recognizing that the stuff that happens to us is a mixed bag of things that are our fault and things that are other people’s faults.
This brings us back to the university major, and my having failed twice to be admitted to it. True to form, I blamed everyone other than myself. Like a “Bachelor” contestant on her limo ride out of the mansion after having been rejected, I threw myself a pity party. I all but sent out invitations. Poor me, rejected yet again. I wept tears of rage and vowed to exact revenge. I played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” on repeat in preparation for my meeting with the chair of the committee.
I tried really hard not to smile in the meeting because, after all, I meant business, and people who mean business do not smile. At first, because I had decided to blame everybody but myself, I planned to not let myself be convinced. I reminded myself not to do what I usually do and nod along with whoever is talking to me, regardless of whether or not I understand and agree.
But halfway through the meeting, as the chair of the committee explained the committee’s reasoning, a voice of supreme reason leaned down and whispered into my ear. Let’s call this new alter ego (the tally now climbs to four) “Posh J”, to go along with Party J, Sporty J, and Scary J: it was time to let it go. What I had proposed was indeed a double major, not a university major. I had to admit that he was right. My idea was lacking. I was at fault.
Giving up was the smartest option—the only option. And once I did that, everything became easier: the chair of the committee is now my English major advisor. I’m a regular old double major now, and it’s all just peachy.
You know what? Sometimes you will try hard. Sometimes you will still fail. Sometimes, not trying again is more important than resilience.
This is what college is for: failing and surviving.
Davis is a member of the class of 2017.