Our time in university is often – and understandably – framed as a time of self-actualization, where we can challenge ourselves, discover our talents, and fulfil our potential. As such, we become the result of our own ambitions; a culmination of our achievements. We are our own biggest project, and the possibilities of self-development are endless.
Our university system as we know it is situated in an inherently neoliberal ideology, viewing competition as the defining characteristic of human relations, and seeing its students as a group of self-serving individuals who are in charge of their own success. This plays into the concept of subjectification, as introduced by the philosopher Michel Foucault, where we are at the centre of our own experience. We learn to observe ourselves, analyse our own actions, and interpret our own thoughts and emotions. Through neoliberal subjectification, we have grown accustomed to individual self-understanding, which makes it increasingly difficult for people to think about themselves, other than in terms of personal responsibility, human capital, and entrepreneurship.
Following Foucault’s theory of subjectification, we learn to view ourselves as a project, fueled with both internalised as well as external pressures to succeed and live up to our ‘full potential’. Especially within the context of the university experience, which is inherently centred around academic and personal growth, this creates a culture of an optimistic, almost religious desire to get ahead at work and in life. As such, under neoliberal regimes, we have all become our own #girlboss. Following this ideology of individualised growth and self-development, we are taught to view our choices as investments. Every extracurricular activity, internship, and outstanding academic achievement is a pathway to further self-actualization. In this mode of thinking, it should not come as a surprise that we are quickly inclined to view others as our competitors (be it actively or subconsciously), rather than our peers, all part of the same network and interconnected through shared experiences.
I am not saying that challenging yourself is a bad thing. If anything, a personal challenge can help you learn about your own interests and abilities, and as a student, it is the perfect time to try new things, make mistakes, and learn from them. All I am saying is that challenging yourself should not be an end in itself. Allow yourself to take some time to rest and reflect, and recognize that you are so much more than the work that you do and the courses you take. We are trying to navigate an ever-changing world, and it is incredibly important to recognize not only our own individuality, but also our ties to each other. We are all in this together, and especially in such a tight-knit program as IBCoM, we can use our community to uplift each other and create a space for collective growth.
Author: Anisha de Vries
Editor: Phoebe Elliott
Visuals by: Gabi Olenicz