Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Needing Power

I am not yet optimized. In fact, I don't know if I am doing any better than I was in high school. As the quarter draws closer to the end, the amount of work increases and I find myself stumbling, staying up late, getting tired and stressed and irresponsible.

If you've been around this blog for a while, you know that my freshman year of high school did not go well. I thought I was doing all right, since I had people to sit with at lunch and I got high grades, but really I was constantly unhappy and abandoned my writing and wanted to disappear into the walls half the time. I wanted people to give me a break, to excuse me for being a freshman whenever I made a mistake.

This is starting to sound uncomfortably familiar. Right now, in my freshman year of college, I have inexplicable bouts of timidity and passiveness, do not write much, and get defensive whenever I do something wrong. "I'm just a freshman" is an excuse that will often be accepted, because people expect freshmen to be confused and incompetent.

Bull. I don't know what happened to me but it has to stop. The overweening arrogance I had at the beginning of quarter is better than this. Yes, I am a freshman, but have I not asserted, over and over, that I am an adult now, that I had better well learn to be my own advocate and do things on my own? "I'm just a freshman" is an excuse and I know I'm better than that.

The problem is one of learned helplessness. Right now, I live at school and at school I am a freshman, a new kid, not yet integrated into the system. Stanford provides a lot of support to freshmen and that's great but I also worry that I'm internalizing the message that I need help and guidance and coddling, and that is a message I do not want to internalize.

Structurally, I am in a role of less power, and the only way to fix that is to let time happen. But I am impatient and I do not want to go through Freshman Year pt. 2. Yes, I am a first-year undergrad, but I don't have to be a "freshman." There's a reason I'm at this school and it is not to sit dumb, feel like an idiotic freak, not ask questions, and feel sorry for myself. I'm better than this.

I wonder if anger is a necessary ingredient in anything I do. The years when I've had something to prove have been my best years. Sophomore year, digging myself out of the pit of incompetence in band; junior year proving that I could succeed in AP Physics without having taken the prerequisite. Eighth grade, proving that I don't need to define myself in terms of my sister (if she's reading this: it's not your fault for being you, I just had a bad case of Ron Weasley syndrome).

But maybe it's not the anger--maybe it's the goal, the pursuit of something. For a long time college has been a destination, and now that I'm here I've diverted a lot of my energy into exploring my options. There's a lot to explore, and people have said, "Stay open to new experiences." Yet I know myself and I know that too much chaos only breeds ennui, and it's time to refocus, to take a deep breath and set out some goals.

What do I want?

Power. That's the post title, after all. But what do I mean by it? I mean I want to be able to leverage the resources I have--knowledge, contacts, influence, etc--to improve my life and the lives of others. I want to have the ability to improve the world, whether my own or the one at large. I miss being a respected senior.

What do I want? Auctoritas. Augustus got the lost standards back from Parthia mostly through force of his authority. He could speak and have his will be done.

The more I research Augustus, the more I am in awe at how one person could leave such a deep impact on the world. I strongly identify with him, and consider myself in the Octavian phase--the ambitious youth with plenty of opportunity and a whole lot to live up to. I need to remember that.

What is power anyway? What is authority? It is more than just getting what you want. It is being able to make things happen through your own will; it is controlling the means by which your will is satisfied; it is speaking and being heard and noted. It is being respected and valued and having your word count for something.

If you want something, you can make it happen. "Make it happen." That was the refrain of robotics build season last year. When the code was breaking and the error messages bewildered us and nothing seemed to work--"make it happen." At a meeting for an organization this weekend, the club president kept on saying, "We're not quite sure how this is going to go, but we're smart, we can figure it out." Same kind of thing. "Make it happen."

Arrogance is useful. The conviction that you are capable and competent and resourceful and important--that's useful. I am often paranoid and check and double check and overprepare, and that paranoia and thoroughness is also useful.

(If I sound like the Tiger Mom Amy Chua, I offer my apologies.)

I suppose the synthesis of the two is: I can do whatever I want if I go after it in the right way. And I am capable of finding and going through with that way.

So what do I want more tangibly?

I want to become an informed, functional citizen. I want to develop the habit of acquiring and thinking about and grokking knowledge in a wide array of fields--current events, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, but especially various kinds of science (environmental, biological, health-related) (these are also incidentally the kinds of science I don't want to study for my career)--so that I can tell when I'm being lied to and not be taken in by specious claims.

I want to become deeply knowledgeable in the fields that most interest me: infrastructure, international development, and energy. To that end, I need to pick classes that will feed into these interests. CEE covers some but I can see myself taking a lot of urban studies and electrical engineering classes in order to build the knowledge base I want. This also means that I should seriously start looking into internships and research opportunities for the summer.

I want to remember, always, who I am and what I am capable of doing. This is less tangible than the above points, and I think I have identified my values and am upholding them. (Except for the one I've been discussing in this post, which is: thou shalt always use thy power to best effect.)

I want to get and give a lot from/to my coursework. This is what that tuition is paying for, after all--my education. I want to gain the tools and skills that will aid me in my rise to power, and I want to expand my mind and think about the world in new and interesting ways. I want to look at the world from a stance of greater power, greater knowledge, greater subtlety. I want to see patterns that previously I could not.

I want to approach the people and situations around me differently from how I have been approaching them. As I mentioned, I've been on the defensive and that doesn't make sense. I have been told to "loosen up a little, it's college" and there might be something to that advice. Yes, I'm naturally reserved, but no one is out to get me and it can't hurt to start a conversation with someone I don't know. Crippling social anxiety gets old fast.

I want to be useful. The thing about being a freshman is that no one really needs you--they were doing fine before you came along, after all--but it's getting toward the end of the quarter and I should be more reliable and dependable by now. There are some people to whom you can give a job and feel assured that they'll do it well. I was one of those people in the context of high school, and I want to keep on being that person. I want to be the person who does the job right, who doesn't need any micromanaging or coddling or excuses. I want to be the person who earns and maintains and skillfully deploys power.


Remember the Name - Fort Minor

Because there's not enough self-absorption and arrogance in this post yet. Also I like this song.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are being a bit heavy-handed and overly self-critical with the word "arrogance." To me, the way you've described it makes it sound more like confidence. A very fine difference.
    I hope this doesn't offend you; if so, it was not my intent.