Where is This Insecurity STEMing From?!
“I’m a fraud.” “What am I doing here?” “What do I have to offer?”
These quotes, although unfortunate, depict the emotional roll coaster I experienced during my first week at my internship.
Here’s the deal. It’s easy to never talk about the hard times; the times we want to lock away in a dark closet never to be seen again. But what’s the point? What good does it do to conceal the inevitably painful, but equally important parts of our story?
Granted there are times when such a concealment is beneficial. But I’m learning that in my darkest moments it is often the brave vulnerability of another that inspired me to embrace and push through periods of insurmountable defeat. And while I don’t assume that my story will do the same, I do want to reciprocate the vulnerability that has helped me during my lowest points.
But first, let’s flash back three weeks ago.
With a crushing sense of defeat, I came home and stared at my English project that was due in a matter of hours.
I had spent over three weeks researching and crafting eloquent arguments about the benefits of multidisciplinary collaboration in the tech field. I had over 40 credible sources on the topic. From every research study and statistic, I thought I knew the facts. And before my first week at CMU, I was convinced that multidisciplinary collaboration in the tech field was possible. I mean after all, it made sense on paper: unique perspectives ignited in the unified pursuit of a meaningful solution or discovery.
But somehow as I stared at these arguments I had written just weeks ago, I kept asking myself “what am I missing?” So why was I feeling such defeat? And how did my inability code in Java render my passion for research obsolete?
Quite frankly, the answer to that complex question is in an iterative process of refinement (which I suspect will last for many years to come). So while my answer to that question is ever-changing, in the past three weeks since initial encounter with defeat I have begun to answer some of those looming questions.
And so in a process of self-reflection, today’s blog post is dedicated to answering the following questions:
Where did my insecurity STEM from? And what can be learned from my past defeat?
1. Comparison: the thief of joy & collaboration.
In retrospect, I realize that the deep sense of defeat I experienced during my first week at CMU STEMmed from comparison.
Fixated on my shortcomings, I lost sight of the bigger picture. I lost sight of the fact that my intention has never been to be a top contender in the rat race towards success. But in an environment where one’s worth is largely dependent on external, rather than eternal achievement, it feels foreign to forfeit on the basis of this reality.
However, since my first week, I’ve learned that comparison is not only a roadblock to my true mission, it also stifles the collaboration that I wanted to experience this summer. So although my technical knowledge is elementary at this time, I'm learning that I should not discount my bursting passion and eagerness to share my perspective.
2. Respect & not being the change I want to see:
See when I stared at my English project that day here’s what I got wrong. It’s easy to create a utopian style picture of society where everyone is equally respected.
But unfortunately I learned that when push comes to shove, every field of study is not considered equal, especially in a STEM orientated environment. And in all honestly, this reality crushed me. It crushed me because I had fallen victim to the either or approach to multidisciplinary collaboration.
But during the past three weeks I’ve learned that embracing a both and approach is an essential way to gain credibility and set an example for the type of multidisciplinary collaboration I want to see. Because the discipline inequality I experienced, whether real or perceived, is a reality that can’t be dismissed for an individual like myself who aspires to engage in the tech world from a social science perspective.
So in order to address this reality, I’m learning to humble myself and embrace the journey and benefits of becoming technically literate. Hello EdX CS 101 course, am I right?
3.) Imposter Syndrome & Pride
OMG. Let’s forget eloquent rhetoric, because here’s the dish folks: being humble is not only difficult, it’s also extremely rare when surrounded by brilliant folks.
I actually thought I was a relatively humble person. But here’s the dish once again: when a part of your identity you’ve nurtured so diligently is trampled by the intelligence of genius PhD students, Professors and students alike, it’s quite the feat not to experience defensiveness.
The truth is I wanted to impress these brilliant minds and show the people who picked me that I was worth their investment.
But what I didn’t realize during that first week of defeat was that the most growth I could experience ,or connection and respect I could establish this summer would STEM down to my ability to be honest, humble and hard-working.
To be true, it’s been four weeks since I started at CMU and being humble still doesn’t come easy. Despite my increasing confidence in my work here, it still frequently burns. It burns when you have to respond to an email with “I’m sorry, I don’t really understand, can you review this to make sure I’m on the right track?” It burns when you have to admit that you don’t understand a concept that seems so basic to everyone on your team. But just because it burns doesn’t mean it’s not worth the pain.
This self-reflection was intended to highlight the not so glamorous behind the scenes of my incredible experience this summer. But rest assured, I fully intend to write about the wonder and inspiration I’ve already experienced at CMU, but it just doesn’t seem right to do so without first being honest. Because as humbling as it is to be honest, I truly believe that God uses vulnerability to open tightly closed-doors.
And so even across the country, this millennial freakout is learning that vulnerability breeds trust, respect and connection.