I try and tell myself that I’ve overcome imposter syndrome, and, in some ways, I have. I have no doubt in my mind that I’m thriving at MIT. I love my classes, I have great mentors, I love my jobs, I have great friends, the list goes on.
And yet, with all these achievements and friends and things that make me happy, I still found myself sobbing my eyes out yesterday on account of being mediocre at MIT.
These feelings have been sitting with me for a while. I quiet them most of the time, but occasionally they come up, bile burning in the back of my throat, to painfully remind me that they’re still there.
And as that acid burns there, I am filled with insecurity all over again. I wouldn’t call it imposter syndrome, since it’s not a question of whether I belong or not; it’s doubt of my place at MIT. What good is it to be at the best school in the world if you’re the stupidest one there?
MIT doesn’t have ranks for this exact reason. There is no summa cum laude or overall GPA ranking because it is meant that every MIT degree is made equal, whether that means a 5.0 GPA or a 3.0. Yet, even with these technicalities and reassurances, I still find myself looking at my peers, feeling the painful sting of mediocrity.
My friends have found their niches at MIT, specifically in STEM: physics, computer science, mechanical engineering, math. Renowned subjects that would garner respect from any common person.
While I tried the computer science degree, I ultimately decided it was something that made me unhappy and I only wanted to do a partial computer science degree, meshing it alongside media studies to form my joint major.
Yet I still feel these lingering disappointments: I’m disappointed I wasn’t smart enough to finish it, I’m disappointed that I’m a humanities major at MIT, I’m disappointed I’m not studying something that will get people to think I’m smart, I’m disappointed I’m not an expert in a field that people care about.
I always remember how it’s me asking for help. Not the other way around. I don’t think I’ve ever provided any meaningful explanation on STEM concepts aside from maybe intro biology, chemistry, and computer science concepts, but even then, I only have a shallow understanding of these subjects. I am no expert.
What I do take pride in, though, is my understanding of the media space. I’ve been learning so much in my CMS classes, as I explore games and video game theory and fan culture and everything more.
I recently had the opportunity to join a research project where I would study Marvel media, looking at the role that MIT plays in the Marvel universe. As I excitedly shared this news with my friends, my friend dryly replied, “What even is the point of that, though? Isn’t it pretty obvious what it represents?”
And in an instant, my excitement rapidly burned away, leaving behind ash and anger and embarrassment. I was angry that he had quickly diminished the meaning of my research. I was embarrassed because what if he’s right? Is it really even that deep at all?
I get comments like this often. When I tell people I’m a blogger or I help run the MIT Admissions Instagram account, I’m met with patronizing comments about how fun and cool it must be to run an Instagram page, or how quirky I am for learning about social media.
I know it’s a stupid thing to be upset about, and I should be grateful I’m even making money for things like this, but I wish my work was taken seriously, that it wasn’t as scrutinized and questioned as it is.
I found myself scrambling to take extra STEM classes or force a biology minor in just to feel that validation, just to feel like a real MIT student for once in my semester. I felt guilty because I spent so much time preaching advice I didn’t practice. I would repeatedly tell the 2026s, “An MIT student is whatever you do, because you are an MIT student,” yet in the same breath I would curse myself for not being interested in STEM enough, for not being smart enough to pursue a “meaningful” subject.
These thoughts have been exacerbated by my relationships. As I sit in a New York City apartment I don’t pay for while my boyfriend making an extreme amount money each week and expecting an equally shiny and lucrative internship for the summer, I’ve started to doubt myself a lot. Should I be trying to be equal with him? Is the wage gap between us too significant, and I should be doing more? Am I worth less than because I’m not as skilled in coding as he is, or not pursuing high-paying jobs like him? Are we even equals?
I wonder if people view our relationship as charity work, that someone as smart as him couldn’t possibly be actually interested in someone as vain and empty as me.
And I found myself sinking deeper and deeper and deeper into these mentalities and insecurities. I started to criticize every aspect of my life. Not only just looking at the difference in achievement between me and my significant other, but between myself and the rest of my friends.
I think what’s even more upsetting is that I do believe the work I do is meaningful and important. I do believe I have worth and I have talent. I am a great mentor, I get along well with others, I’m great at communicating ideas, I’m a good leader.
But what frustrated me was that it felt as if my friends didn’t see these.
The other day on a FaceTime, my friend was talking about Raymond and I’s respective skills. I told her that there was no way I’d ever compare to Raymond’s coding skills–I was just too far behind. She then proceeded to think of some things that I was good at, something to rival Raymond’s coding abilities.
I sat there, nerves bundling in my stomach. I repeated over and over in my head: what do I have? what do i have? what do i have?
She hesitated as she thought, as if she couldn’t think of a single comparable, impressive skill. Two minutes passed as she continued to think and I started to tear up. Really? Absolutely nothing?
She eventually came up with interviewing, which felt like a sucker punch to the gut. I knew she meant well so I didn’t comment on it, but God, really, is that all I can bring? Is that all I offer to the table?
After the call, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed because it felt like the work I was doing, everything I had worked on and poured myself into, was simply not enough. Not worth acknowledging.
I eventually calmed down and found the guts to call my mom and talk with her, to which she gave me a pep talk about how I need to stop comparing myself to other people and finally start finding reassurance in myself and my identity, but it’s been hard.
I thought last semester was a turning point for me–I thought I had made it and had already become content with who I was, but this past week has proved to me that there’s a lot more work I need to do.
It’s obvious that I’m still unhappy with myself, that I am still imposing these rules and expectations onto myself and I am truly my own worst enemy with every unnecessary comparison I make.
I hope that, by the end of this year, I can find definitive peace in myself, my actions, and my identity.
But for now, I will continue working towards that.
On the second day of 2022, I found myself pulling out my old art supplies, yanking out some old, worn out pastels and drawing paper and began following a YouTube video on how to draw fruit with pastels.
It was relaxing. Even though I was making absolute garbage and I had no knowledge of proper technique or style, I loved the time I spent just working with pastels.
Other days, I found myself falling in love with reading again, whether it was rereading fanfictions I read back in high school or starting new books. The prose and the style and the imagery evoked from the words excited me.
Reflecting on it now, I want more of those feelings. I want that brazen joy from doing something I have no talent in, no skill in. To simply do things out of a love for it and nothing else.
I hope 2022 brings me more of that and, hopefully with time, it will bring me more of myself.
watch my instagram live on this exact topic here
listen to the playlist i listened to when i wrote this: