When I first started Yale, I — like many others — had doubts that I truly belonged. I remember the exercises with my first-year counselors during Camp Yale that made us repeat that we belonged over and over again. In my four years, my feeling of belonging waxed and waned. But upon reaching my senior year, it was difficult not to feel that creeping sense of inadequacy seep its way into my consciousness. I ironically felt imposter syndrome most acutely in my first and final days at Yale.
My very first op-ed was about how we define success, and how we attach ourselves to prestigious clubs and organizations to alleviate our insecurities and embellish others’ first impressions of us. This idea only becomes more relevant in our senior years, as we navigate finding different careers and postgraduate plans. There’s comfort in name brands.
As the end of our Yale careers approached, we internally compared ourselves to others — the prestige of our next steps, the speed at which we figured out our plans, even the clout of our senior societies. There is this nagging sense of constant comparison, measurable self-worth that underlies much of our Yale experience, but is only exacerbated as our time at Yale draws to a close.
Yet throughout my four years, the more accolades I acquired, the more clubs I joined, the more postgraduate interviews I accumulated, they still didn’t alleviate my insecurities. It never felt enough. “Don’t compare yourselves to others” was a helpful phrase to keep in mind. Easier said than done.
Really, the phrase should be, “Don’t compare yourselves to others — see what you can learn from them.” Once we start viewing others not as competition but as friends, people to learn from, we begin to recognize that for one, we are all just figuring it out, and two, we are incredibly lucky to be a part of a community where we can learn so much from each other.
We shouldn’t view our peers’ success as hindrances to our own. Instead, we should value a community where we get to be in close proximity to people who have accomplished so much but are still eager to learn more. Yes, there can be a lot of posturing amid it all, but I would argue that there are few places outside college that exist solely for the sake of learning from each other.
With all this distance, I’ve realized that learning at Yale is not exactly replicable. Online classes simply do not substitute for the conversations with my professor before class, or the post-class lunches with my peers where the discussion melts into our food truck-style grilled cheeses. Online problem sets do not substitute for hunkering down in a Bass basement learning from trial and error with a study group.
These online substitutes are certainly better than nothing — but we are missing something. Most learning is done outside of the classroom, in moments we don’t anticipate, in late-night common rooms, at run-ins on Cross Campus, in oversized buttery chairs. We learn from our environments, the people around us.
Sometimes college feels like a crazy experiment, tossing a bunch of twenty-something-year-olds into a few-mile radius and seeing what comes out of it. (Chaos, mostly). There is this sense that we can learn literally anything we want to — an endless amount of possibility. There are suitemates to play IMs with and classmates to teach you a new skill. There is so much to choose from; we even get decision paralysis.
But in the next few years, when we work our nine-to-fives, seven-to-sevens, or (bless your souls) seven-to-midnights, we will only be lucky to have spare time for a couple hobbies, and even fewer people with whom to share those activities.
I certainly miss being surrounded by this intellectual curiosity and diversity, in a place where my job, for the most part, was to learn. But just because we may never return to a college campus does not mean that we should shed the pursuit of knowledge. We shouldn’t need to pay tuition or formally attend classes to be a student. Being a life-long learner is a choice and something we can, and should, actively pursue throughout life.
We may never be able to recreate that potential energy, that environment that thrived solely upon intellectual curiosity. But that does not mean we cannot inject some of that optimism and curiosity into our lives going forward. I’ve already learned a great deal from being close to such awe-inspiring people, who push me to be better and force me out of my comfort zone.
As I conclude my last op-ed, and final days as a Yale student, I want us to remember that the best way to grow is to stay constantly curious, to learn from those around us, no matter how physically distanced we may be.
HALA EL SOLH is a senior in Berkeley College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .