Penn seems to constantly tell us to take ourselves seriously. Everything we do has to be designed to better market ourselves to employers, clubs, professors — whomever we are trying to impress at any given moment. Being a “real adult” seems to mean pushing gravely onward through life, holding yourself to the highest standard possible, and relishing in your own steadfast pride.
Yet laughing at yourself is one of the secret joys of life. The ability to be self-deprecating is greatly underappreciated. Joking at your own expense turns embarrassing memories into joyous ones, our darkest times into bumps on the kind of shitty road of life. At a school that can feel like a pressure cooker of perfectionism, that is vital.
Many times in my life I have laughed my way out of problems that could have seriously brought me down. In the past I found myself overwhelmed with a neurotic desire to make every part of college perfect. Yet this burned me out faster than any tough CIS course could have. I would spend hours and hours trying to make my assignments just perfect, or cram a little bit more for a midterm. I read articles and heard gossip about the most accomplished, venerated students and felt a profound urge to be like them. I stressed each year about where to live for the next, which clubs to stick with or drop, and almost any other moderately significant decision. It’s only recently, after seeing just how random and unpredictable the outcomes of those decisions turned out to be, that I realized they just don’t matter nearly as much as I thought.
Relentlessly striving for perfection and overanalyzing or beating yourself up for every mistake is no way to live life. Be lazy sometimes. Miss a few deadlines here and there (okay, maybe not the huge ones). Live a little. If Penn throws you down, laugh at yourself all the way back up. The immense power of this comes when you realize these mistakes and setbacks do not and cannot significantly change your life. So don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t even sweat the big stuff for that matter. Sweating is pretty gross, let’s be honest. Instead, find the things you actually care about, and joke about the rest.
This really should be no problem for our generation. We have come of age in increasingly ridiculous times, and have developed pretty absurd senses of humor in response (if you don’t believe me, check out the Penn meme page).
Bomb a midterm? Happens to the best of us. Just got dumped? Go download Tinder. Laugh, laugh, laugh it off. I made the not-so-great choice to take six credits this semester, have forgotten to do all but two of the weekly quizzes for one of them, and my skin still sucks. I even started writing this when I was supposed to be in class. Oops. Nevertheless, there’s not much I can do other than sit back and chuckle at my own naivety, then get back to work (eventually). Sure the person who seems to have made all the right choices and attained every prestigious accomplishment under the sun is impressive, but let’s be honest, they’re also kind of intimidating. I’d rather talk to the person who’s screwed things up sometimes and can also never make their 10:30 a.m. class on time.
Now of course, I come from a position of privilege. However, I strongly believe this message to be universal. No matter what your circumstances, finding something about them to laugh at can lighten the load at least a little. And often, that makes all the difference.
TYLER LARKWORTHY is an Engineering junior from McLean, Va. studying Computer Science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.