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