Authentic Eagles: On Relationships

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our  truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Sean Fanning, A&S '14

In the end, a person is only remembered by the impact he or she has on others, a view echoed in the Jesuit ideal of “men and women for others.”  In my four-year journey, one that is quickly coming to an end, I have come to learn that individual accomplishments only get a person so far in life.  A legacy, by definition, lasts forever.

When I came to Boston College I had a lot of confidence in myself when it came to what I knew, namely, the sport of rowing.  From day one I made it my mission to be the best rower the school had ever seen and for my first three years on the Heights I devoted so much time to making myself the best I could be by pouring so my time and energy into trying to perfect how others saw me.  I strived to be the best performer, best leader and best teammate.  I did not want others to see any flaw in me.  At a very deep level I truly believed that doing that would make me happy.

At the start of my senior year I had been dating someone for five years.  Five whole years. Since my junior year of high school I had been with a truly amazing woman.  She went down south to college and I came to BC.  After my freshmen year, she transferred to BC, but for some reason things between us were never the same as they had been in high school.  I was consumed by this desire to better myself and I didn’t think about how this affected the people I care about.  I would constantly push her aside and put myself first.  For example, I acted like she did not exist on a Valentine's Day simply because I had a bad practice that morning and was frustrated with my performance.  Instead of spending time with someone I cared about, I internalized my emotions and ignored her.  What I had hoped would allow me to be better really only served to isolate me. Some switch within me had flipped and I lost sight of what makes the human experience unique: love.  As a result, we broke up.

I live with my best friends, but within my room tension built as the desire to be the best—to be perfect—consumed me.  Just as I did with my girlfriend, I did with my roommates.  I would jump down their throats any time they would joke about rowing or at my expense.  I couldn’t handle any criticism and chose training over quality time with them.

At the beginning of this year I was elected Captain and President of the Men’s Rowing team.  I had everything I had worked for, and yet that ah-ha moment, the moment when I thought all of the sudden I would feel complete and my selfish actions validated never struck me.  Not once did I feel right in spending three years pushing aside relationships and great opportunities all for more “feathers in my cap,” especially after losing my girlfriend and pushing people such as my roommates away.  If anything, I felt emptier after achieving what I dreamt of for so long.  Looking back, I wasn’t doing things “wrong” and my first three years at BC certainly were not wasted, but I was certainly doing things for the wrong reasons.

Graduating in just a few short months is a scary thing to think about, but it has accelerated the awareness that being content with what I leave behind is the only way I can continue on my journey through life with no regrets about my time at BC.

That is to say that being content with the relationships I have formed is more important than anything else I alone could possibly do.

Nowhere was this more evident to me than this past fall when someone very close to me reached out and showed me that having someone to talk to can be life changing.  At a moment in my life where being alone would have made life incredibly difficult, having a relationship with someone who cared about me allowed me to “figure it out,” so to speak.

If I have a truly meaningful impact on the individuals that I have been in contact with,  that will contribute to my own satisfaction. Not just that, but surrounding myself with people who I care about and who care about me will make me infinitely happier than anything I could possibly do alone.  I have started communicating with my roommates and my teammates better. Asking them about themselves and not just talking about myself or not talking at all.  Within my team, I have continued to try with my fellow seniors to define a new team culture that has been improving over the past few years where we are loyal to each other and not to our own desires.

Individual accomplishments will fade and be forgotten in the blink of an eye, but having an impact on those around me will last forever.   In 25  years I want people to remember not just me, but my entire class, a group of the greatest people I have had the good fortune of getting to know for being just that—great people.  It is through understanding that being a person with and for others, by loving those around me unconditionally and allowing them to love me, that I feel I can continue to grow to embody the Jesuit ideal “men and women for others.” At the end of the day, love, more than any other material or shallow adjective, is what makes the human experience real.