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MIT blogger Cami M. '23

regression and imposter syndrome by Cami M. '23

let's talk about computer science!!

Hi, hello. How are you doing?

I haven’t been in the writing mood as of late and it has me feeling really guilty. Blogging used to be something I looked forward to every week and I seemed to be teeming with ideas, but as of recent it feels more like a chore. Every week that passes by where I remain silent adds another weight of guilt onto my back and I’m really unsure how to deal with it.

I think part of it is because I’m a little more critical of what I post. I’ve been rereading my old blogs and there’s such a spark and pep in my voice when I write, a passion and excitement for what’s really happening. Now, when I write, it feels emptier and more hollow. I think it’s bland and boring. And it makes me scared to even post anything at all because that spark that was once there is now just…gone. And I don’t know where it went. And it terrifies me.

The other part is really dealing with this hefty idea that people actually read these blogs rather than just me throwing ideas into the void. And while sometimes the idea of people reading my blogs is very comforting, knowing that I’m not alone, it’s simultaneously very raw and scary. I know that sometimes people read these blogs and use it as ammunition against me or think they can make deeper assumptions about me based off of these blogs, and honestly it’s terrifying.

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media portrayal and parasocial relationships and all of that as of late. I don’t know if it’s because of my Fans & Fan Culture class or just because it’s been manifesting itself in different ways around me, but I thought I’d shed some light on why I’ve been so…reserved in my writing.

But I realize I also have a duty to serve and really when I applied to be a blogger, I entered with this mindset of really digging into that vulnerability and being undeniably honest even if that honesty is discomforting and angry and sad.

As of late, I think my imposter syndrome has been manifesting itself in nasty ways. Ways I didn’t think I’d see in myself since it reminds me of my old high school habits. In high school, I pushed myself to my very limits, despite the content being nowhere near as difficult as it is at MIT. I cried if I didn’t understand things. Got frustrated and threw things at walls, broke things, even went as far as to banging my head against the wall when I couldn’t get something right. I would stay up for hours and hours hating myself as I reread the same paragraphs over and over again, slowly filling with more and more rage, not at the content, but at myself. I felt I was too stupid to understand it. There was this desperation I can’t even describe, this need to understand and get it that reared its ugly head when I encountered a difficult topic.

I got incredibly defensive. Whenever someone tried to explain something to me or help me understand, I felt embarrassed because they were able to understand it and I wasn’t and now I needed to be babied, hand-held through this simplistic thing that I still couldn’t get a hold on. I hated it.

During my senior year of high school, I managed to calm these habits down, since academics were no longer a stressor since I was in a good college and I took a light load and I was basically done with high school. In my freshmen year of MIT, I had no issues with this except with 6.009, when I took it in my freshman spring. And then again, with 6.009 in my sophomore fall. And now again, with 6.006 in my sophomore spring.

I sense a pattern here.

A couple days ago, as Raymond tried to explain to me a hint for my 6.006 pset, I just started snapping back with angry, aggressive comments before hitting things around my room and kicking things.

It wasn’t pretty. I think this is a place I was really terrified of returning to, this immense stress regarding my classes that drives me to the point of such drastic measures.

It’s a different kind of frustration, though, from 6.009. With 6.009, it felt like it was so impossibly out of my grasp and more of hopelessness. This feeling of I will never understand because it is out of the reach of my comprehension. This led to feelings of sadness and despair more than it did of anger. With 6.006, though, it feels closer. It feels like something I should get. I whisper to myself, “You’re not stupid, you should get this.” It feels like somewhere I can reach. And so when I don’t reach it, and inevitably fall, it stings even more. Hurts a little more. And that’s where the rage and anger comes from. Not frustration at who’s trying to help me, but me. Because it’s my inability to understand that is the barrier here.

I’ve been questioning a lot why computer science classes in particular make me transform into this, make me regress into this sobbing, rage-filled demon of an individual. Every time I open the 6.006 pset, I get a little more nervous. Will I understand what they’re even asking? Are other people getting this and I’m not? Am I stuck on an easy question?

I begin to compare myself. I am no longer concerned about the content, but rather how everyone else feels about the content. And I really think this is one of the uglier manifestations of imposter syndrome, one that I realized I should talk about more.

When it comes to my computer science classes, I stop thinking about the difficulty relative to myself, but relative to my peers. I begin to imagine where I fall in the class, if I’m doing better than my peers, or worse than. If the questions I’m asking are dumb. If I’m even set to be a computer science major.

And I think it appears especially with CS not only because it’s my major, but because this field is something so new to me and so not new to many other people within my major. I didn’t really know how to code until I came into MIT. Didn’t know what an online assessment was, didn’t know that there were 4-5 rounds of technical interviews, didn’t know what a binary search tree was or an AVL tree or hashmaps and all of that. And my freshman spring, summer, and honestly still even now, feel like I’m just playing catch-up. Like I started a marathon a couple minutes too late and I’m trying to run to the pack.

Which I understand is incredibly stupid because yes, I’m still doing really well for where I’m at. But I can’t help but be greedy, it’s in my nature. I look around and I’m surrounded by my friends who are incredible at computer science. Raymond, who has been coding since freshman year of high school, easily looking at my 6.006 psets and understanding what’s going on. My friends who finish the individual problems01 6.006 is doing an evil thing where they have designated individual problems that you can't work on with other people. It's 100% against the collaborative nature of MIT and I think it's absolute bullshit. with ease. I look at them and I can’t help but feel stupid. When Raymond tries to calmly and kindly explain a problem to me or walk me through a hint, I sometimes can’t understand it. And I fall into this pit of self loathing and disgust and start to project all of that hatred onto him and call him mean things and it’s awful. I hate the person I become when I get like this.

And what it all comes down to are these crippling feelings of self doubt and inadequacy that I cannot quiet because I feel like I am not good enough. I feel like I do not know enough. Not only am I insecure about where I am in my major, but I’m jealous and greedy and ambitious to a fault. I see my friends with internships at X company whereas I have Y company and I start to compare the two in my head. And then I scold myself in my mind because that mindset is toxic and horrible and I just…

It’s scary, I think, to look at myself in the mirror and see what I’m devolving into. But at least I’m aware and I can see it happening. But I just feel like I’m…not necessarily slipping, I think that’s a bit dramatic. It’s more of I’m afraid for the future since I know there’s even harder classes than 006. And I know that this mindset I have is not sustainable. This…crying when I don’t understand something. The anger that I feel when I can’t understand something. The doubt when I answer a question.

I think a lot about whether this field is for me. If I can’t handle something as simple as a class, maybe I just shouldn’t do it. But then I think about the joy I had during my hackathon, when I was aimlessly coding away with Crista and Caroline. Or how I feel when I was designing and making my website. And I think, yeah, maybe I can. It’s…strange and it’s weird because I want to finally reach that place in my life where I feel secure in my abilities. And honestly I thought I was there. I’m finally happy with my body and the way I look. I eat as I please without hating myself for it. I think I’m attractive and I’m proud of the way I look. I speak when and where I can and I am unabashed and loud and confident as a leader. But then it comes to computer science and I feel like my scared high school self again, working away for hours and hours, hating myself for being so slow and desperately trying to prove to someone that I’m capable. But honestly I don’t even know who that someone is. Myself? My friends? The recruiters for the companies I want to work for? No clue.

Really all I know is that at the end of the day, I want to be happy with who I am and look in the mirror and be proud of what I see. But right now I feel myself just growing uglier and uglier on this inside and I want to put a stop to it. I know my mindset isn’t sustainable right now. I know I need to be kinder not only to the people around me who are helping me through this god awful class, but also myself. And we’re working on that, slowly! But it’ll definitely take a lot of time.

Thank you for reading.

  1. 6.006 is doing an evil thing where they have designated individual problems that you can't work on with other people. It's 100% against the collaborative nature of MIT and I think it's absolute bullshit. back to text