Oberlin Blogs

Pep Talks

September 1, 2023

Ben Smith ’24

Being that I just had my last first day at Oberlin, it got me thinking about when I was in my first semester. I remember exactly how it felt to admire the seniors in my flute studio. It was a combination of a lot of emotions: inspired, excited, fearful. Not fearful for them, just for myself. I was incredibly insecure and comparison was inevitable. The hill I felt I had to climb to get to “their level” seemed endless. Likewise, I spent much of my first two years at Oberlin trying to micromanage everything. Climbing the hill exactly according to plan–if I did that, then maybe I’d get to a place where I felt satisfied and content with myself.

Well, now that I’m in my last year here, I've realized something: that hill never existed to begin with. Turns out it was a mirage conjured from a perfectionist mentality. Fooey! 

While I have accepted that I’ll always be a perfectionist, being at Oberlin taught me that life isn’t so linear. There really isn’t one path, and you never know what you might get out of an experience. A lot can change in just 24 hours if you have an open mind. 

I walked into Oberlin with a limited view of what I could achieve. On the upside, this drove me to work very hard. On the downside, I was a ball of nerves walking around campus. I reflected this afternoon with a wonderful friend, a friend whom I met in my first month at Oberlin. She reminded me about our “pep talks” from our first semester. It was during these pep talks that we would sit together in Wilder and essentially have a make-shift therapy session. These pep talks took place because we had a lot to unload emotionally. For me, this usually meant I had an impending studio class or some performance-related event on the docket. We'd hash out our strengths, our weaknesses, our worries, our hopes–just really getting it all out there on the table. 

My friend told me today:

“And didn’t I tell you that one day we’d look back at this and see how far we’ve come? Well, look at where we are now.” 

She was right. I remember exactly how it felt to be a performance major who couldn’t perform. I remember not being able to believe I’d “see how far I came.” And in this moment now, I acknowledge those feelings did exist in the past, but they are no longer part of my present. Not to say I don’t need pep-talks anymore, I do from time to time. But the difference is that I’m learning to disengage with the need to prove myself. Reminding myself that I’m doing my best and that in itself is enough–that's the good stuff. 

On that note, I’ve got no idea what this year has in store. Of course, I have some ideas… but what will actually pan out? Well, only future Ben has those answers. In the meantime, perhaps some more pep talks are in order.

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