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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Angels, gods and overachievers

"You can ask anybody who constantly pushes themselves, they always fear they're not doing enough. It may not be a morbid or pathological fear of failure, but there's always this uncertainty… It's always 'I haven't really done enough' or it is 'one more thing I need to think about.'" 

— Clarence Thomas from "Created Equal"
On my TikTok “For You” page, I’ve gotten a handful of slideshows where characters from TV shows are paired and labeled as angels or gods. The audio comes from the climax of ç song “Not Strong Enough,” and it repeats the lines “Always an angel / Never a god” as the viewer swipes through the photos. The idea is the angel is the character who always does the right thing and puts in the work, but the god is the character who always comes up on top. This happens no matter how little effort the god puts in and no matter what the angel does to try and catch up. The god will win, and the angel will come in second. It is written into the DNA of their dynamic. 

You can find examples of this dynamic in most TV shows and many movies. In “Gilmore Girls,” Paris was an angel; Rory was a god. In “Suits,” Louis was an angel; Harvey was a god. In Glee, Mercedes was an angel; Rachel was a god. As a movie example, in the “Prince of Egypt,” Ramses would be an angel, and Moses would be a god. 

Basically, being the angel is always being good but never being great. 

The (former) English major in me wants to write the trend off as TikTok discovering character foils and making it trendy, but I think there is more to it. For me at least, this trend seems to give life to one of my biggest fears: that I could give my all and do everything right, but it would still never be enough. It’s a difficult fear to reckon with, and I imagine that there are many overachievers on this campus that have it as well. So how does one overcome the fear of always falling short? The short answer is you don’t.

The longer answer is you don’t stop. Yes, the idea there could be something innate about me which stops me from achieving everything I could ever want to terrifies me to no end, but even if I knew for a fact I was destined to be good but never great — I would do nothing differently. Because even if I shoot for the moon and miss, I will still land among the stars.

At Notre Dame (and possibly throughout academia, but I cannot speak for what I do not know), we have a chronic culture of busybodying. For better or worse, if the phrase “work hard, play hard” was in the dictionary, you would see a picture of a booked and busy Notre Dame student. I’m always astonished by the wonderful things my friends are doing in things like research and club leadership, but I am also aware of how much time they spend studying as well as investing in social and professional relationships. We all do so much and push ourselves to manage impossible workloads. The fact we’re all doing it successfully (granted, depending on the week) and at a T20 university might imply we all have the makings to be great. 

Certainly there is something intrinsic in each of us that guarantees success, but we’re also human. There will be moments of failure. However, as long as we keep striving and working to be good, we maintain the chance of being great. 

I’m telling you this now because I need to hear it, too. It’s midterms week, and I just spent the better part of last week knocked out by the campus flu. I feel incredibly overwhelmed and behind on everything. If there was ever a moment I thought maybe — just maybe — I put too much on my plate, it’s right now. Make no mistake: these words of encouragement are for me, but I hope they’re helpful for you too.

Keep striving. Keep pushing. Keep being good, and one day, we’ll all be great.

Joy Agwu is a senior at Pasquerilla West, originally from Bowie, Maryland. She is pursuing a degree in philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. In her free time, she finds great pleasure in consuming media and reflecting on the deeper meanings behind the content she encounters. Whether you have recommendations for TV shows, movies, podcasts or any other form of media, or if would like to further discuss an idea presented in a column, feel free to reach out to her on Instagram @JoyfulJoyousss.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.