"None of us know anything": How to survive Cambridge

Image credit: Official US Navy Page

Someone will always know more than you. Someone will always disagree with you. Someone will always be ready to debate your point, whatever it is. It’s been a year and I still pause before expressing an opinion; I still decide not to say something because I don’t have the energy to defend it.

That’s a daunting future to face, I know. Especially if, like me, you’ve spent your life up until now without being challenged past what you can easily bat aside. But it’s also incredibly invigorating once you’re over the initial surprise, because it helps you to remember what a truly singular place you’re spending the next few years of your life in.

As you learn to survive (and thrive) in Cambridge, you’ll realise one fantastic thing: none of us really know anything yet. Sure, we know a lot about politics or philosophy or history. Sure, we can analyse texts and win medals and solve equations. But for all our knowledge, most of us are still reaching around in the dark.

This is what makes Cambridge such a great place to be – it’s a paradox of knowing everything and nothing, of capability, potential and complete inexperience.

There is no golden moment when you’re ready to run for a committee position, write your first article or take up a new sport. You just have to do it. The first step might feel shaky but before you know it, you’ll have sent a dozen emails, written 300 words or made a few passes.

And that’s when you’ll see that it isn’t actually that complicated – there was no layer of knowledge that the others had which you didn’t. None of us really know anything, we just go for things and do what we can. It’s cheesy, but by and large it’s the truth.

Get involved, try things, and you might be surprised by how quickly you take to them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t grab every opportunity in Freshers Week – you have three years, start something in Lent, or Easter, or when you begin second year.

We worry about living up to an incredibly high academic bar enough already, so don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you need to pass an exam before you can get involved in a discussion or pen a manifesto – chances are, you’re already over-qualified.

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