Indoctrinated in Individualism
The Big Picture

Katherine Cienkus

Katherine Cienkus

“Do more of what makes you happy.” “Fall in love of taking care of yourself. Mind. Body. Spirit.” “I am not what has happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” “Take the next 60 minutes to be completely selfish.”

These are snippets of what I hear on an average day at the CorePower Yoga near my house, on Pinterest and on the covers of magazines. To my generation, these quotes seem inspirational and positive — overall, there is nothing inherently wrong about their intentions. But I feel as though the overarching theme should be further examined. The quotes promote a sort of mentality and lifestyle that I have learned to exalt. Recently, I have begun to question the level of individualism we have been indoctrinated with in the past years.

An increasing number of college students feel anxious, alienated and depressed. With the increased connectedness to others through the Internet and social media, this doesn’t seem like it would be the case. But more and more I have realized that by remotely watching other people’s lives, we feel more alone then ever. When this happens, we turn to ease our anxiety and insecurities by buying into the mantra of selfishness, of focusing on ourselves, of a contorted version of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and a vicious cycle of individualism.

Sometimes we unknowingly fall into this pattern and only realize that over time something feels largely missing in our lives, which leads to a constant quest for fulfillment. Many a business model preys on this weakness and desire for meaning and belonging. Lately more than ever I am glad that at least at Georgetown we have a built-in community that can be tapped into at any point.

I think overall what I am trying to understand is how our generation slowly has lost, for example, religion, one of the most inherently communal aspects of life, and how we look for it in other ways. Scrolling through Facebook is a solitary exercise; going to a yoga class and working on you is something experienced alone as well. Yet these are both lauded. What ever happened to Friday night bowling groups, book clubs and women’s guilds? They seem to be becoming more of the past, and everywhere I look around me I see people desperately grasping on something to give their lives meaning and community. People keep their pain and loneliness to themselves and thus become more isolated, since they have been trained to handle it themselves. The cult of individualism may be indoctrinated, but that does not mean it has been effective. I think of what my babysitter used to say: “el medio es oro,” or “the middle is golden.”

Katherine Cienkus is a rising sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. The Big Picture appears every other Wednesday at

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>