Inferiority Complex, Told by a Duke University Freshman
The promise of prestige is that every person you’ll meet in college will be smarter or more talented than you.
Opening the admissions response letter from Duke is a stressful yet exhilarating experience — so much is promised in the short lines that describe the conditions of your acceptance, the requirements and expectations and repeated congratulations; words that most students walking the grounds of this campus have read over and over, with a mix of disbelief and joy. Soon after, though, you must face the excitement and panic that accompanies the fact that you, you, have been accepted to one of the most prestigious institutes in the country.
When you’re surrounded by everybody that seems mentally, artistically, or socially superior to yourself, the feeling of inferiority, that you are not worth it, intensifies.
The promise of prestige is that every person you will meet in college will likely have the intellect or achievements greater than yourself. Luckily, you too have a few successes of your own — an award or two from state-level competitions, maybe even a national or global recognition. While you certainly are proud of them, there’s still a voice in the back of your mind that reminds you that, you know, you were just fortunate to pick a topic that you already knew about in that extemp. speech contest, or that college credit math course wasn’t really that “college-level” to be honest. When you’re surrounded by everybody that seems mentally, artistically, or socially superior to yourself, the feeling of inferiority, that you are not worth it, intensifies.
This feeling of inferiority and falseness erodes one’s identity. Our confidence as the most academic, the most athletic, the most creative in our high school degrades. While the persona of the university student is yet to settle in, we must find a way to orient ourselves without an external compass. Mental and physical self-care is neglected as the orientation week schedule compounds with seminars, activities, dinners and classes, while our overstimulated souls forget to wind down and decompress. The day’s endings and beginnings are decorated without ease, routine or ritual. You feel as if your actions are disconnected from yourself, but still realize that there’s something different about you, compared to the sheer diversity of the people you meet — which helps only your loneliness. I can call my high school friends to remind myself of who I was, but they can only provide glimpses into the past self that I was; now, irreversibly altered by independence and exhaustion, I will inevitably have changed from such a self.
Those who suffer from social anxiety or are simply introverted find this significantly more difficult — especially if you are from (literally) the other side of the world, more so if you aren’t religious, and increasingly so if you’ve experienced depression. It seems like I am (like everybody are) in the intersection of populations of nationality, social class, belief systems and personalities that make me unfortunately, even maliciously, incapable of resolving this ambiguity. Of how the hard-won achievements of my own that are, for the first time, overshadowed so easily. The indecisive emotions of the short-term relationships with the innumerable people I meet every day. The distance between the lifestyle of myself a month ago and now. The disillusion of dorm life as I face independence. The question: “Is this all? Or are there more?”
It is a period when we must embrace ambiguity in order to change, to identify and amend the gaps in our ego, to move on.
Cliché though it is, there’s always a silver lining that points to a better way. Ambiguity, in this case, finds its role as a motivator in redefining ourselves — the beginning of college life is a context for change that we occasionally face: as we enter school, experience love or loss and evidently, as we enter college. It is a period when we must embrace ambiguity in order to change, to identify and amend the gaps in our ego, to move on. Every hobby we had, people we loved, beliefs we held — the things that we are made of, is in the air for reassessment. And hopefully soon, they will become better versions of themselves.
Maybe because of my frequent moves, I often find that after a week or two I pause to recognize the changed scenery — the weight of this campus and its people; the cozy greenery of the quads and the unfamiliar gothic buildings that is now, astonishingly, my home; the people passing by, each and every one of them fascinating and talented; the nightlong conversations with barely befriended acquaintances. There is a sense of uncertainty but with reassurance, as if your world is broken down but somehow rebuilt with those shards there may be a better one, waiting for you to embrace and appreciate it. As I then look up at the sky, the sky of the ambiguous season caught somewhere between summer and autumn, I am reminded that it was me who was accepted here, that was welcomed here — and maybe, it’s just okay to for me to be here.