Jason Rowland: Breeding the leaders and best

Monday, September 5, 2016 - 5:50pm

“Congratulations, Jason — You’re in!”

Much to my delight, I was officially the newest member of the Wolverine family. If I didn’t know what that entailed before, the rest of my acceptance letter laid it out clearly. I wasn’t “simply being offered a place in a college,” as the admissions office put it; rather, I was joining a community full of people “making a difference everywhere in the world.” I was joining the Leaders and Best.

After my first year in Ann Arbor, I can truthfully say that the letter did not exaggerate. My freshman year was spent living in West Quad — the same dormitory that James Earl Jones and Gov. Rick Snyder called home when they were students. I took a class in the Ford School of Public Policy, named after former president and fellow Wolverine, Gerald R. Ford. I attended a lecture by the former CEO of Twitter and University of Michigan alum, Dick Costolo — and then personally asked him a question afterward. And I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write for the same student newspaper that Thomas Dewey, Sanjay Gupta and Arthur Miller contributed to during their time as Michigan students.

However, the pressure to succeed at that level — to truly become one of the Leaders and Best — can be overwhelming at times. While the atmosphere at this university (at least inside the classroom) is often more competitive than collaborative, competition tends to breed excellence, right? Competition also breeds unwanted side effects, though — including, but not limited to, the unsolicited byproducts of a poor-quality-of-living and high-stress lifestyle. And allowing those byproducts to take over your life often comes at the expense of your academic success.

During my freshman year, especially in the fall, most of my closest friends were either in the College of Engineering or enrolled in STEM-related majors. As a result, I often found myself comparing my schedule to theirs. “Am I taking classes that are too easy?” or “Maybe my major won’t make me enough money” are two common thoughts that plagued me throughout the semester. As a result, I enrolled in courses that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy and, of course, didn’t end up enjoying — all because I feared I was not achieving at the same level as my peers.

Consequently, my grades suffered. It’s little wonder I did well in the classes I liked and poorly in those I didn’t. I had a false conception that the only way to become one of the Leaders and Best was to push myself tirelessly in classes I hated. This revealed a bigger flaw in my mindset — I assumed that there were only a few rigid paths to reaching success. While there’s something to be said about stepping outside of your comfort zone, there is a fine line between expanding your horizons by exploring untapped interests and being constantly stressed about work you dread doing.

One of my biggest lessons from my first year was that I can be successful in whatever field I choose, as long as I try my best. Despite the competitive atmosphere that the University sometimes produces, I shouldn’t adjust my plans for anyone but myself, and neither should you. Michigan produces the Leaders and Best because it excels in almost every field across the academic and professional spectrum — from engineering to history and from business to biology. Almost all of the alumni “Leaders and Best” forged their own paths to reach the places they did, which is an important fact to remember when you catch yourself comparing yourself to your peers. I promise if you don’t forget that, and if you plan your class schedule and extracurriculars with that in mind, the University will be a much less competitive place and a much more enjoyable place.

Jason Rowland can be reached at jerow@umich.edu.