A couple nights ago, I cried as Raymond asked me my deepest desires and I told him that for once in my time at MIT, I want to be good at something, to have my niche.
I’ve been struggling a lot in finding my place at MIT, at least academically. There are times where I look at myself in the mirror and I see my accomplishments. I think of how far I’ve come compared to where I began and I revel in the progress and the work in the past year.
But then, I sometimes see the flip side of that, where comparisons lay heavy in my mind and I only see and hear and feel the weight of “not good enough.”
I’ve said this time and time again and it frustrates me that I still feel this way, but it’s tiring being the stupid one of the group. No matter how many pats on the backs and heartfelt reassurances my friends give me, I can’t help but feel as if it’s all one big joke. Let’s all just tell Cami that she’s smart because she’s sensitive, and if we don’t, she’ll feel bad.
And while I know my friends aren’t doing this at all, it doesn’t stop the doubts and wondering and fears from swirling in my head, dense and thick and foggy. I start to run into these periods where my only mantras are “stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid” and when I look in the mirror I can only see a pity accept. The AOs threw a bone at me because they wanted to give me a shot.
Earlier that night, I ran out of a conversation we were having about workplaces. Balancing morals. Would you work for a company that works closely on military weaponry? Are you comfortable working for a tech company notorious for stealing data and selling your information? Where is the line drawn? What are our morals? Things like that.
I answered honestly, saying I’d compromise my morals for a job because frankly, I needed to take what I can get. Criticize me all you want for this. Of course, I was questioned for my answers and while they weren’t personal at all, I started to take them personally. I was frustrated that my friends kept berating me with questions when I had said my piece. I have no line. I will take the job I’m offered because any job is a good job. I do not expect to get a job out of university, at least with my qualifications.
And yet they kept going. And kept pressing. And kept pushing. Until I asked them to stop fucking asking me questions and I stormed out the room and locked myself in my bedroom and cried.
And cried and cried and cried even though I didn’t quite understand why I was crying. But I remember thinking to myself “They wouldn’t understand because they’re smart. And you’re stupid. And you don’t have a shot in hell in getting a job out of undergrad but on the off chance that you do, you take it.”
This is when Raymond entered the room, asking why I was so upset, and I no longer was filled with sadness, but anger. This toxicity and mindset I had built had finally come into play and I exploded. I envied how Raymond had been coding since freshmen year. Hated how difficult classes for everyone else came easily to him. Despised how he could spend 3 hours on a lab that took me 20. And most of all, I hated myself for not being good enough, for not being smart enough and putting in the work to maybe get to where he is one day, and at the end of the day, no amount of envy will make up for the fact that he is not the problem, but I am.
Before that conversation, I had asked him if he thought people were capped on intelligence. If there were some things that certain people just couldn’t fathom and would never, ever fathom. And Raymond, thoughtfully, responded with no. If you put in enough time and work, you can be as smart as you choose to be.
I then take a deep breath and close my eyes and realize that I am as smart as I choose to be. And it is my own damn fault for being as stupid as I am. There are days where I curse the world and curse MIT , where I criticize the nature of the classes or the work culture and blame MIT for my stupidity. Then, there are days where I sit down and cry because I realize that I am my own worst enemy and I am the very thing stopping me from being great. I flip flop between this: am I not smart because I’ve reached my capability, this is outside my realm, or am I not smart because I choose to not be smart, I’m not putting in the work to be smart?
Frankly, it’s the latter. But my complex and narcissism and desperation to be the main character tells me I’m the first. I’m aware that I lather myself in heavy layers of self pity, that soon this old act of feeling stupid at MIT will grow old and people will no longer offer me the pats of condolences and, instead, I’ll be pierced by their harsh glares and sneers. That maybe instead of quiet words of comfort, I’ll simply be told to get the fuck up and stop being sorry for myself because I’m doing it to myself: no one else is.
And maybe that’s what I need, but I don’t quite know.
There’s a moment, in particular, that has stuck with me (well, multiple), where I was crying and crying and crying after a particularly rough week and I tell Raymond, “I am tired of not being academically smart or talented.”
And he goes, “Well you’re good at other things.”
And I say, “Like what?”
And he goes quiet.
This moment haunts me, because not even the person who is supposed to know me best and understand me best can identify a strength. I play this over and over and over in my head. It comes as two stabs, a quick one-two. The first is his acknowledgement: the fact that he didn’t even try to correct me when I said I wasn’t academically smart. A silent agreement. The second is the empty answer that insinuates “I can’t think of anything.”
I’ve had friends tell me I’m plenty good at things, and I don’t doubt that. My friends say I’m a good speaker and a good leader and I’m good at organization and all those things. Which I appreciate, I really do. But being in this environment, this overly academic and STEM filled place, makes me feel as if those things do not matter. What I would give to trade my supposed poise and speaking skills for an ounce of coding experience. Or mathematical intuition. Or extra points in physics.
I look around me and I feel tired. I want to be as good as everyone else. But I am not.
“What are your deepest desires?” he had asked.
On the surface level, I’d like fake lashes. New sports bras. Maybe some food.
My level two desires: I wish I fit in a little better at MIT, or had a different community. If there’s one thing high school has taught me, it’s to not rely on a singular friend group on the off chance that it disbands. I am terrified of that. I need to find other places, places I can find refuge.
But deeper than that? I want to be smart. I want to find my place. I want to be good at something. To be known for something. In the year that I’ve been here at MIT, none of my friends have asked for my help academically, simply because I have nothing I can offer them.
And they will tell me no, no Cami you’re plenty help! But then I look back at them with dead eyes and I know they are empty phrases meant to quell my building feeling of ‘idontbelonghereidontbelonghereidontbelonghere.’
When I talk about this, I feel bloody and raw, left out in the open and exposed. I feel a physical pain in my stomach and tears well in my eyes because my desperation to just feel like I belong in this hell of a school is cuts deep and runs strong. I want to be smart. I want to be good at something. I want to be the things everything this school tells me I am not.
When will it be my turn to finish a pset alone, without any help? When will it be my turn for a friend to come to me for pset help? When will it finally be my turn to be an MIT student?
And Raymond snaps me out of it, asking the real question at hand: Why?
Why do I put so much stress on myself to be the very best, why must I attain this, what purpose does this fulfill? Why can’t I simply come to school to learn, as intended, and realize that I’m not good at everything and just be okay with that?
I don’t know. I didn’t know how to respond, I think I just gave a weak “because…” and trailed off. Or maybe I counteracted it with “You don’t know what it’s like to always be the stupid one.” But he has a point.
I don’t know where this deep desire to prove myself comes from. And I don’t know how to make it go away. This semester, I’ve seemingly gotten myself stuck in a cycle of trying, realizing it’s not good enough, not trying, getting bad grades, feeling stupid, but still not trying because I’m scared my best won’t be good enough.
I’m doing the bare minimum to pass my classes this semester, and I know I’m only building ammunition for my friends to use against me. “Cami, you’re not doing well in your classes because you’re skipping all the assignments, not because you’re too stupid.” And it’s true.
I look at those assignments with dread, thinking of all the office hours I’ll have to go to, all the clarifications I have to ask, all the little details and help I’ll have to fish for. I could just be like a smart person, read it and on the first read through, understand. But I am not.
And this cycle is vicious. This immense fear of trying on anything because I’m scared my efforts will be futile. And frankly I am tired of trying. I am tired of trying to be smart because no amount of catch up I do will ever put me in the position of my friends. And I feel defeated and I crawl back into bed and watch hours of videos to lull me to sleep so that I can repeat it all again in the morning.
At the end of the day, I don’t quite know where to go. Sometimes I think I need to surround myself with different people, that my friends aren’t representative of MIT. But when I suggested this to Raymond, he said I couldn’t just stop being friends with people because they’re smarter than me. He’s right. I think of transferring, but then I think that I’m giving up. Cami was too stupid for MIT, so she wants an easy way out. I think of taking easier classes, but then that makes me feel like I’m lazy.
I think the harsh reality of it is is that I’m not as stupid as I say I am, maybe I’m about 50% of the way there, but the rest of it is attributed to my laziness. And perhaps I hide behind my poor work ethic, cover it up with easy excuses like “I’m dumb.” Because it’s far easier to say you can’t do something rather than you won’t. That is my problem at the heart of it all.
I am as smart as I let myself be. I am as smart as I try. And put simply, I am not trying hard enough.