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You are not alone, you are not alone

There’s this feeling that no matter how hard you work, you can always be better, and as long as you can be better, you’re not good enough. You’re a slacker, you’re stupid, and MIT keeps an overflowing warehouse of proof in the second basement of building 36. There’s stress and there’s shame and there’s insecurity. Sometimes there’s hope. Sometimes there’s happiness. Sometimes there’s overwhelming loneliness.

There’s something to giving everything and always falling short. Eventually we’ll walk out with a deep understanding of our fields, a fantastic tolerance for failure and late nights, and raised expectations for ourselves and for humankind. Someday, we’ll look back on these four years as the best years of our lives and the foundations of the kinds of friendships that can only be formed with some suffering. But right now, IHTFP. Sometimes it feels like MIT drags your self-esteem over a jagged, gravely rockface and stretches your happiness, your mental health, and the passion and energy that brought you here like an old rubber band.

I love this place. I love the amazing people I’ve met, I love watching myself grow as a scientist and a writer, and I love being engulfed in the heart of scientific progress and passion and feeling like I belong. At the same time I’m miserable, sometimes. IHTFP is the middle of the semester, when the lounges off the Infinite Corridor fill up with sleeping people, when I don’t leave the dorm except to go to class or to lab, when I can’t go apple picking because I’m hosed, and when the faces around me reflect my own anxiety. IHTFP is studying my butt off to hit the average, crying about my grades, and then helping a freshman with his homework and realizing how much better I’ve become at patiently disentangling a challenge.

MIT is paradise. I cry sometimes. I love it here. My only consolation is that the salt in my tears will squelch any unsuspecting plants they land on. It’s beautiful. That’s right, unsuspecting Killian Court grass, wither. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

- Lydia K. ’14, Meltdown (via the MIT Admissions blog; image via brohammas)

Putting aside for a moment the usual tropes of MIT and Wellesley social dynamics, I think this is something that many students at academically-rigorous schools can easily relate to. For me, the idea of “giving everything and always falling short” is something that I’ve had to wrestle with since day 1 at Wellesley (though I didn’t really come to terms with it until a few months into my sophomore year), and honestly I don’t think I’ll ever be able to really get over it until I graduate and re-integrate myself with the real world.

It’s normal for anyone to feel inadequate every now and then, but those preexisting insecurities seem to be amplified tenfold when you’re living and studying in an environment where the pressure to become something “great” is propagated everywhere — whether it’s by the constant pimpage of alum success stories in every piece of college paraphernalia in existence (we graduated two secretaries of state, a primetime news anchor, and the composer of “America the Beautiful”!), or simply the sight of seeing half the people in your polisci class dressed in suits and talking about their consulting interviews — a subtle reminder to you and your blue jean-covered ass that the Success Train has already come and gone, and you have missed it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m really tired — tired of chasing a train that I didn’t even want to catch in the first place but nonetheless feel obligated to chase just because that’s just what you do if you hope to gain any tangible success in life.

I’m tired of working myself to the point of misery even after deciding that I wouldn’t chase that train, just so I can say that I’m “making the most of my education.”

I’m tired of using the success of my peers as a barometer to gauge the amount of pressure I ought to be placing on myself in order to meet the “rigorous standards” set by my school’s reputation.

I’m tired of ascribing my sense of self-worth with my ability to “do well.”

I’m tired of reflexively labeling myself a failure whenever I don’t something perfectly.

I’m tired of doubting myself. Not only has my confidence in tackling unfamiliar and challenging completely plummeted, but I’m starting to lose faith in my ability to do things that I’d always considered myself to be good at.

Like writing. I can’t even write a blog post or an article without obsessing over every word, every sentence, constantly deleting and rewriting and ultimately still being unsatisfied with the final product — not because it’s bad writing, but because the words themselves feel forced and awkward. How can something that was once as natural as breathing turn into something so difficult and laborious? Why do I feel that the one pillar I’ve always leaned on is finally starting to crumble? Why now?

But even now, in writing about an article that talks about feeling inadequate, how I feel inadequate, and how many students probably feel the same way, I’m still able to find ways to try to prove my own inadequacy. Like, the author of this article, Lydia — she’s at MIT, doubling in Course 6-7 and 18 and minoring in 21W, and is doing a UROP...so obviously she has a right to feel overwhelmed. She has a right to complain, to cry, to feel frustrated. She is allowed to “let it go” and just be satisfied with herself because after all, she’s already done so much. But me, on the other hand? I’m over here at Wellesley still trying to recover from failing a course two semesters ago and am already losing my marbles. But I’m not there yet. I have no right to complain. I need to keep pushing forward.

But I guess that’s exactly the problem, isn’t it? Not knowing how to stop pushing yourself. Where your limits are. How to respect those limits. How to be okay with yourself.

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Sigue andando el camino por toda su vida, respira
Y si pierdes mis huellas que Dios te bendiga
Respira

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  • http://the-afterimage.blogspot.com/ lae

    /hugs/ I understand your feels so well and you’ve articulated it a lot better than I could…and I guess a hug is the only thing I can give right now.

    I think one of the most depressing and sometimes damaging things we can tell ourselves is that we don’t have the right to feel overwhelmed because those who feel overwhelmed and speak out about giving yourself a break, stepping back, relaxing and giving yourself credit are those who are already accomplished. I still don’t know what to say to that – I always feel like I don’t deserve to feel this stressed or disillusioned because I haven’t DONE anything to warrant feeling defeated and exhausted.

    But maybe the point is to simply be kinder to yourself. Appreciate that maybe your threshhold for how many accomplishments you can rack up will be different. Not embracing mediocrity, per se, but accepting perhaps, at the moment, you are not able to work at superhuman level, to achieve ultimate accomplishment by a deadline you are set up to expect and being okay with that. Don’t undervalue your own feelings because there will always be people who are busier, more successful, more disillusioned, maybe more ‘qualified’ to feel overwhelmed…but your feelings should be just as valid.

    Sorry, I think I’ve degenerated into rambling. Know that, however small you think it is, you’re making an impact in some way (even if it’s just inspiring me to write a really long comment =v=) and that it’s appreciated. I really hope things get better for you <3

    • http://www.callmepatricia.com Patricia

      <3 thanks for the kind words. always appreciate your comments :)

  • http://ofstrangersensibilities.blogspot.com Joy Of Stranger Sensibilities

    OMG you go to wellesley? small world, my best friend currently attends wellesley too and she’s a soph there. maybe you guys might know each other IRL. (i would give her name to you but i don’t want anyone IRL to know about my blog :P) anyway i go to smith and just want to say i lurve the articles you write on seoulbeats. they’re real wonderful. i no longer listen to k-pop after leaving boarding school (where there were tons of koreans and how i got my first taste of it) but i still revisit on occasion for thoughtful discussions such as your pieces. i apologies for not commenting on your piece here, but i have to say though we ALL feel moments of great inadequacy. i’m a junior now in college but i feel like i’ve barely intellectually progressed since my first year, how there is still SO MUCH left to learn and i only have three semesters left in undergrad (discounting this semester). my god i don’t know much about programming and algorithms and have yet to make a billion dollar social networking site. what lae said is so so very true. please just know that you’re not alone in thinking so <3 didn't expect to get mushy all of a sudden, but i've definitely been in your shoes (still think i am in them). sending much love, dear stranger, your way.

    • http://www.callmepatricia.com Patricia

      yeah, seven sisters! high five! definitely a small world.

      thanks for the comments and kind words. it really means a lot <3

  • http://twitter.com/#!/swheekun swheekun

    I think the educational system as a whole is really tough in that way, measuring performance numerically and putting so much emphasis on ranking and competition. It doesn’t always favor those who are truly the best, and for some people the most valuable things learned in school aren’t explicitly taught or measured. If you perhaps step back and evaluate your abilities independent of such standards and think of college in terms of gaining experiences, you’ll see that challenges- and the emotions involved in overcoming them- are what make it truly valuable. It’s all a test, and I’m sure that, being someone who is putting forth all effort to ensure readiness for entering society, you will be able to succeed in the end :)
    As for writing, I have noticed that some of the best ideas in any creative field are conceived spontaneously and initially recorded without attention to detail. For me it helps to put down a concept very generally and in refining it, try to maintain and emphasize just the central concepts. Overedtiting and overthinking things more often than not results in the addition of unecessary details and draws attention away from the focus, and I’ve ruined plenty of drawings in my lifetime simply from not knowing when something has already become the best product it will be.