Perray: Maybe I Don’t Want to be Great

Senior Helena Perray discusses her position on greatness and redefining its meaning in her life. - Photo via

If it has ever been recommended to me – human services, marketing, psychology – I have more than likely tried to major in it. “You would be great, Helena.” Great. There was never a need for my own personal interest, so long as someone, somewhere told me that I could do it – that I could be something.

And as I stumbled, unsatisfied, from major to major, seeking out this potential for success that everyone else seemed to believe in, I made my last pursuit toward greatness; I began to study journalism. Following what I saw as a success-driven plan, I emailed my way into advanced courses to catch up on lost time. I put hours of preparation into every article written for class and attended my first meeting at the school paper.

And what resulted from my newfound journalistic dedication? A university-wide shut down due to COVID-19.

Great. The word continued to climb every stairwell in my mind as I sifted through the many delays toward greatness that a semester online would produce. It was not nearly a month into my Fall 2020 semester, when I opened my laptop, logging onto Zoom for what seemed to be the hundredth time. My home routine became a mundane, watered-down version of the on-campus schedule that I once had – the schedule that, unlike this one, could have made me into a credible journalist.

What had once appeared to be an extended spring break, had now prolonged itself into becoming the new normal – my new remote reality. As the week’s dragged on, I grew tired of staring at laptop screens, unmuting my microphone and wrestling with the feelings of failure that arose in, yet again, another new major.

I could not attend a meeting at the school paper and pitch the ideas that would have been expected of me. I was not able to walk into an office, notebook in hand, and interview my subject face-to-face – like a real journalist. Every day that passed was another lost opportunity – another day that I was not meeting the potential that others swore I had. Great. The word tore at me.

Quarantine persisted, but my confidence did not. I felt different. Maybe it was the new major and the pressure that accompanied it. Maybe it was the unfamiliarity of meeting article deadlines from the comfort of my bedroom. It could have been the social isolation of online classes or the intensified workload that tagged along. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was the deafening silence of a world in complete lockdown – one that no longer consisted of distracting myself with the next night out or burying my thoughts in the people around me. This new world – the pandemic world – forced me to see myself for everything that I was – and was not – rather than the glimpse of myself that I saw – and so desperately tried to ignore – when the world was loud.

So, I began to write. Not for an assignment or in pursuit of greatness. Not for any pat on the back or professor’s approval. I wrote for myself. Months passed and ideas bounced and fell through my mind like a frantic game of pinball as I forced the vulnerability through my fingertips and onto the page.

And as I wrote, I realized: how can I be great when I don’t even feel that I am good?

The silent days were often loud on paper, and my isolated life evoked overcrowded thoughts. I had dedicated such copious amounts of time to chasing the greatness I felt I owed everyone else, that I had forgotten to want it for myself. I had forgotten to be present and master the small things before I forced myself to conquer those so much larger. The crippling fear of letting people down – of disappointing them – had stolen my ability to simply be content. I realized that my definition of greatness was empty and unfulfilling and detached. The thought of being great brought more anxiety than joy – more hopelessness than inspiration.

As I read through my own written thoughts, I craved – more than anything – to be good. I wanted to be present and conquer the small battles of each day. I wanted to find happiness in the small details of life rather than chasing it through the unattainable. I wanted to say no when I meant no and release myself from the grip of everyone else’s definition of greatness.

And through this collection of thoughts, that I had so meticulously recorded during quarantine, was born “Student Diary” – my first weekly column as a student journalist.

It was not perfect, but it was good. And for the first time, I realized that maybe I didn’t want to be great.

For comments/questions about this story, tweet @TheWhitOnline or email