I cannot cook.
My wonderful roommates that I lived off-campus with in the spring of 2021 can attest to this. Dinner time would roll around, and there I would be, patiently sitting at our rickety kitchen table, embarrassingly waiting for one of them to begin the daily meal preparation while I offered encouragement from the sidelines. Literally — I would stand to the right of my roommate Eleanor (a fellow Crimson Editorial editor) as she cooked at the stove, pestering her on the daily.
The necessity of cooking had never once entered my mind in high school, and for good reason (or at least, what I believed then was a good reason). This was part of my rebellion against my Southern upbringing — the most anti-feminist thing I could think of at the time was making food and being confined to the role of a homemaker. Armed with the ease of binary thinking, I made cooking my adversary, and nothing could make me bend my own will to its seemingly submissive character.
Fast-forward to the second semester of my freshman year — hopelessly lost in a sea of utensils and ingredients, my desire to be independent and “make my own path” had rendered me, ironically, dependent.
My stance against a life-sustaining practice, based solely upon my own superficial assumptions, sounds so ridiculous now. In retrospect, it pains me how I was unable to see through such a sloppy generalization. But this was a lesson I needed to learn. I was wrong about something I had extreme confidence in. My reasoning was flawed. Turns out I really do need to learn how to cook.
We try to plan for everything. Especially at this school. Whether or not we’d like to admit it, we all wanted (on some subconscious level) to get into a school like this, and we mapped out every step of our life in order to get here. Optimization and opportunity costs and all those other notorious Ec 10a words were our unconscious mantra, guiding our path to the cobblestoned sidewalks of Cambridge.
And maybe this is just a me thing, but the idea of something I am confidently doing now actually being the long-term “wrong decision” is enough to send me into an anxiety spiral. Alarm bells sound in my head and I immediately renegotiate my situation and search for the optimal one. This is what I thought I was doing with cooking — I thought I had planned out this campaign against cooking with such precision, efficiency, and skill that it would never come around to mess with the plans I had made for my future. That is, until I sat at the kitchen table the second semester of my freshman year, salivating at the sight and smell of chicken and broccoli, unable to replicate it for myself.
A silly example, maybe, but it exemplifies a phenomenon a lot of Harvard students are scared of — being wrong about something we thought was right.
Being proven wrong, or “making a mistake,” sounds great in the abstract — it’s a slogan we’ve seen in every elementary school classroom, plastered on primary color posters accompanied by some cartoon animal. But actually having to admit fault is a different story.
It is ok to make mistakes, to be “caught slipping,” as my roommate Eleanor iconically puts it. Because, honestly, no one cares. No one is looking at you as closely as you think they are. These “mistakes” that we think we are making are actually just the processes of figuring life out; we’ve just stigmatized them to the point of being the benchmark for judgment, digging our own social grave in the process.
So, in this last article, I give you the final key to the Houston to Harvard mindset, and arguably the hardest one to accept (especially for me). Part of learning to see the world with nuance is realizing that your own actions are not always right, that they are not always on the positive side in the spectrum of decisions. We make mistakes in how we reason away the fault in our own behavior, and we make mistakes in pointing out the faults in others that, in actuality, are really just mirrors of ourselves. But, a lot of the time, these decisions also do not need to be categorized as “mistakes” — rather, every day we simply make decisions that help us figure out this mess we call life, some good and some bad and some in the wonderful in-between.
And a final side note — if the first thought you have in reading this article is “man, I know a lot of people who need to read this, people that really need to be shown that they are wrong,” then you’ve missed the point entirely.
The final stage of the Houston to Harvard mindset? Seeing the nuance and capacity for “mistakes” in your own actions, because like everything else in this messed up world, nothing is ever as black-and-white as it seems.
So yes, maybe I will just have to learn how to cook.
Ellie H. Ashby ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Her column “From Houston to Harvard” appears on alternate Fridays.