Deep Breath: You’re Better off Than You Think

If there’s one thing I’ve gathered from years of late-night “Girls Gone Wild” infomercials and annual MTV booze fests, it’s this: Spring break is not supposed to be a time for deep reflection. It is not a call to introspection nor an exploration of life’s great mysteries so much as an excuse to lose an inordinate number of brain cells/articles of clothing to tropical locales that host breakfast happy hours and outlaw T-shirts of the nonwhite variety.

Except my spring break wasn’t anything like that. I didn’t lose any brain cells or pants, and I definitely didn’t enter any wet T-shirt contests. (But after a quarter-long grilled-cheese binge, I’d be in no shape for victory, anyway). No, I spent my week of leisure doing exactly what none of us should: freaking out about the future.

After 11 weeks of last-minute essay writing and furious memorization, you might think we’d all be ready to throw caution and various articles of clothing to the wind and relax — but not me. See, in the brief absence of overdue papers and centuries of ancient history to learn, I found another object of grave concern, one common to those of us whose majors don’t end in “chemistry”: the creeping suspicion that in two years, with nothing but a literature degree from a school where fraternities throw racist parties and the admissions office accidentally tells every applicant they’re admitted, I’ll be forced to fashion a cozy cardboard abode from recycled Perks cups and Ted Baker shoe boxes. Or, even more appealing, move back home.

When I informed my dad of these suspicions, he suggested that I make use of something called StrengthsFinder. It’s an online survey designed to identify natural talents through a comprehensive self-assessment asking how much you identify with statements like “I relax easily” (“Strongly disagree”).

Of course, the fact that the survey is only available after you’ve already paid $30 for a corporate self-help book (aptly titled “Now, Discover Your Strengths”) might have been cause for skepticism in some. But in a state of such certainty of my imminent failure, I read on.

The book’s chief message is a simple one: Rather than wasting a lifetime trying to improve our weaknesses, we all should focus on bettering our natural talents — the most prevalent of which, in my case, is apparently consistency.

It’s true: Not only am I unfailingly late for everything, I also always order the same Subway foot-long. No matter how many sacrificed attendance points and undercooked chicken breasts it yields, this kind of predictable nature, StrengthsFinder asserts, is a virtue. I value “predictability and even-handedness,” and I should apply those to whatever profession in which I may find myself.

Whether as a barista or burger-flipper, applying my aptitude for consistency, the book insists, will be the key to affording higher rent than I’d pay for my shoebox — not trying to improve my weaknesses in the hopeless pursuit of well-roundedness. This line of thinking might be a tough sell to the higher-ups responsible for making me take science, math and six quarters of world history, but it makes a whole lot of sense to me. Certain things I’ve never had much natural talent at — but stomaching the same sandwich thrice weekly while regularly churning out halfway decent papers at the 11th hour? That, thank you very much, I’m more than capable of.

I, like everyone else, now have another quarter’s worth of distracting schoolwork to be grateful for, lest I worry about a post-grad world that won’t let me charge everything to my student account. One thing both my dad and the survey are quick to remind me, though, is that if I play to my strengths, I just might shock myself by turning out okay.