Fact: Most people see it as weakness to answer a “How are you?” with anything less than a “fine.” Wanting to be reassured, needing the support of friends and family and desiring to have your hand held is weak. We compare it to Victorian pregnancy—an unpleasant yet unavoidable evil, meant to be plodded through but certainly not encouraged.
When an interviewer poses, “What is your greatest weakness?” the response formula is to turn a hardly-negative trait into an overly positive one. “I’ve learned to use my perfectionism to my advantage, allowing me to meet deadlines and pay acute attention to detail.”
I can understand the need to resist crumbling about all non-okay things haunting your waking moments over the phone to a nameless HR interviewer. I really can. But we possess fundamental weaknesses far greater than the need to triple-check every e-mail and properly label drawers. Fact: Anyone who truly believes that is your greatest weakness can keep dreaming. I’ll even throw in a Montauk beach house.
I met my best friend the first week of Duke, as she sat visibly upset in the hallway of our freshman dorm. Knowing the bad rap associated with exhibiting uninhibited emotion, I immediately lumped her into that category of “weak” people who fail at suppressing their feelings. In my mind, she could devolve into guttural yells at any moment and was capable of stalking some new crush with bouquets of roses while proclaiming her undying love.
I could not have been more wrong. While I was prepared to avoid eye contact at all costs and walk past her, I stopped. My decision to stop has been, to date, the best decision I have made at Duke. Without the carefully constructed layers of pretend perfectionism, I met a refreshingly loyal companion who has been my rock since season one. And the best part is that we didn’t start with an exhausting Ryan Gosling honeymoon phase—we fast-forwarded straight into Danny Devito emotional honesty. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have someone I can lean on without sinking my chances of being hired for a job. I have found someone who deserves Beyonce, because she won’t run away at Lindsay Lohan.
Over the next three years, I learned that it is unfair to associate full emotional disclosure with weakness. I can respect blasting Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All,” watching heartwarming cat videos on YouTube and just sobbing for a good 30 minutes. It feels comparable to going for a great run, in that afterward you feel notably lighter, refreshed and even pleasantly delirious. It feels as though something has been released. That fight you got in with your parents? The six hours you spent on the first two problems in a set of 23? The guy who stopped texting you back? The jealousy of watching your older sister accomplish all the things you ever wanted? Gone.
As a student body our greatest weakness is that we forget it is okay to be weak. We get so wrapped up in the obsession of hiding personality flaws, flaunting our strengths and trying our hardest to handle everything like adults that we become embarrassed of emotion. But how did emotional strength become a symbol of greater maturity? Obviously, no one benefits from a total surrendering to pain, but doesn’t a certain kind of weakness have a place in certain moments? There are so many things that happen each day that are outside of our control—things that, for the most part, we cannot understand. Keep dreaming if you can’t admit to yourself that it’s scary, and at times overwhelming.
Next time, be weak. Instead of squashing the full weight of your emotions into some hidden-away compartment, admit you’re not okay. Take some time to revel in your pity before you cut the sadness off. Go for a long run. Cry. And let someone see your ugly-cry-face. You might even meet your best friend. Fact.
Niva Taylor is a Pratt junior. Her column runs every other Thursday.