Michael’s Story: A Cautionary Tale

Hey guys,

Today I’m going to have a big Internet overshare moment — but I’m doing it all for you.  In writing, compiling, and researching the Underground Guide, we’ve come across the three major things that can derail the otherwise bright and promising college careers of otherwise bright and promising college students: romantic issues, academic problems, and getting involved with drugs and alcohol.  I managed to mess up about 2.5 of these, in perhaps the only time at Harvard I was actually ahead of the curve.

I almost ended my college career 3 times, got myself a week-long trip to the hospital, and spent far too much time at college much unhappier than I need to be.  I don’t want you to be like Mike.  I want you to be happy, and even get some good grades.  So watch.

It’s a long video, I know, but the story is worth hearing.  And it’s in hi-def video.  And 3d, like Inception. Not really, but check it out below.  If you like it, share it with your friends on the Eff-Book or in the Twitterverse.  If you have questions or something to say, leave a comment!

Much love, and thanks for watching.

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5 Responses to Michael’s Story: A Cautionary Tale

  1. Chelsea Link says:

    Alright. Oshima, you’re great, and I love you, man, but I have to play devil’s advocate for a minute here.

    I *strongly* disagree with the assertion that the unequivocal right thing to do is to dump your high school girlfriend/boyfriend on your way to college. Yes, there are plenty of relationships – casual, serious, and everywhere in between – that fizzle out in the first year of college. That’s natural. And I think it’s okay, and it’s possible to survive the fizzling out process without derailing your bright and promising college career. I also think it’s entirely possible (and healthy) for a high school relationship to survive well into and even beyond college, similarly without derailment. I would encourage incoming freshmen (and, really, anybody) to simply check in with themselves every now and then, take stock of their personal relationships of all kinds, and think about what’s working and what isn’t.

    Blanket rules like “all [or almost all] high school relationships should end before college” (or even “no high school relationships should end before college”) aren’t very helpful – for a number of reasons. For one thing, nobody is likely to listen to them, because everybody thinks they’re a special case. For another thing, though, I don’t think those statements are necessarily even true. It sounds like you’ve both been burned by high school girlfriends and had pretty messy break-ups, so is it possible that you’re over-generalizing from your own experience?

    For what it’s worth, here’s a taste of my own story. In the middle of my junior year of high school, I started dating a senior. When he went to college in the fall, we decided to stick together, or at least give it a shot, with realistic expectations and open minds. That year went just fine. I’m not sure what effect this had, but he did go to college a two-hour train ride away from me. Then, when it came time for me to go to college, I went much farther away – to the East Coast from the Midwest. My first semester went fine. At the start of my second semester, the fizzling commenced. Did it cause me emotional distress? Yes, of course. Might have had a happier freshman spring if I hadn’t stuck with my boyfriend originally. I don’t know that for sure, but yes, it’s quite likely. Anyway, we broke up in the middle of my freshman spring. I briefly dated another Harvard student, which was much worse for my emotional and academic health than having a long-distance boyfriend, hands down. (Then again, it was also not a very healthy relationship generally, as tends to be the case with rebounds.) I went home for the summer, single. At the end of the summer, I got back together with my high school boyfriend, just before returning for my sophomore year. I’m about to start my junior year, and we’re still together, and really happy for the moment.

    You could argue that I’m just halfway into Oshima’s own story. It sounds pretty similar – stuck with high school sweetheart, broke up freshman year, got back together for sophomore year. But it’s not. Again, Oshima, you’re great and I admire you a lot, but I think it’s entirely possible to keep your emotional life from significantly affecting your grades. I’ve had plenty go on in my life during my first two years at school, just as I’m sure almost every student has – all the relationship developments I’ve mentioned, conflict with my parents, a death in my family, the death of a high school friend – and, while we’re all being brutally honest here, I’ve never gotten below an A- in any of my courses.

    I’m not trying at all to invalidate your own experiences. I’m just trying to offer a different perspective, and suggest that maybe the lessons you two have drawn from them aren’t necessarily the ones that will be most helpful to every student. My own conclusion – based on my experiences, both of yours, and those of the many fantastic and radically different people I’ve met so far in college – is not that you should definitely do one thing or definitely not do another, but that there are a few things you should try to keep in mind at all times, at college and elsewhere: balance, flexibility, and self-awareness are some of the big ones. Learn to balance your emotional life and your relationships, your schoolwork, your health, your extracurricular interests, etc. Learn to be flexible and roll with the punches – but flexibility doesn’t mean indifference; don’t wander aimlessly, but also don’t panic when detours happen. Most importantly, learn to check in with yourself periodically. Think, feel, slow down. Trust in your own ability to make good decisions for yourself – and earn that trust by really trying to make good decisions for yourself, academically, emotionally, physically, and otherwise.

    • Ali Binazir says:

      Great comment, Chelsea! Thanks for contributing.

      I’ve been running HUGS for THUGS for 7 years now, and not one person who has attended the program has stayed with his or her hometown honey after going to Harvard. It’s the only piece of advice with a 100% proven track record. And, as you mentioned, you broke up with your hometown boyfriend after going to college, too. So it’s really not about us; Michael’s story is just one example of things gone wrong (and the point of his story is mostly about bad relationships, not staying with your high school sig o).

      Is it possible that someone could stay with a high school sweetheart and make it work? Sure. Is it likely? Absolutely not — less than 1% chance. When it does work, it’s the exception that proves the rule.

      What I’m saying is that you have two choices: do it now gracefully, realizing that it’s not going to work, or do it later painfully, forced by circumstance. We know no one’s gonna listen to us anyway, but our job is to report on the future so we know we’ve done our part to keep you kids happy, healthy and sane.

      • Chelsea Link says:

        My point may have been lost in my rambling, but I’m arguing less in support of high school relationships and more in favor of a different approach. If people aren’t going to listen to the advice to dump their boyfriend/girlfriend, there might be better advice to give them, like constructive ways of dealing with the trouble you believe is almost inevitable. I’m not sure the situation can really be boiled down to two choices, break up now or break up later. I think there are many other choices about how to deal with the break-up, even if it is inevitable. That was more what I was trying to say: it might be more useful for some people to think about how to handle relationships and their inevitable issues than to simply avoid complication by removing yourself from them.

        After all, we’re all at Harvard to learn, and relationships are certainly a rich topic of study – and one a lot of Harvard students tend to miss out on. Even if we assume that all high school relationships are doomed, I’m not sure that necessarily implies that the best time to end them is right before college. I’m not actually voting either way on this, but I think it’s worth considering that some people might have a more positive experience in the freshman-fizzle scenario than by dumping their significant other in between choosing classes and ordering a futon, like ticking off another box in a pre-college checklist. Maybe there are things to be learned in the fizzling out process. Maybe there are things to be learned during the long-distance effort. Maybe there are advantages to having the emotional support of a romantic relationship during your first few weeks in this new environment. Maybe there are disadvantages to recovering from an abrupt break-up right when you arrive at a new school with tough work and no familiar faces. My point is just that even if you assume that *all* high school relationships are doomed from the start, that doesn’t necessarily imply that breaking up right before college is the best way to handle that.

  2. Lindsey C says:

    I miss that face!!

    Michael, you’re really brave and the fact that you were able to reflect on all the trials as articulately as you just did is the proof that they helped you mature and become more resilient–the very point of Harvard in the first place. I can confirm that one of the biggest gifts Harvard gives you is the opportunity to feel struggle like you’ve never felt before, a chance to experience “failure” that you never thought possible for yourself, and the support to pick you up and put you back on your feet when you’re ready. Not easy, but so huge in the long run.

    • Hey Linds,

      Thanks for the comment and thanks for all your support. You said it so well that I might have to steal it and use it in another article – “the opportunity to feel struggle” is an amazing way to think about. I’m glad I learned what I did and grew how I did, but I think that the same growth and learning could happen without such drastic unhappiness and crises, and that is the our mission here.

      Thanks so much Linds, see you around!

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