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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Students have company in urge to excel

The world does not seem like a friendly place. Seniors are facing the realities of the job market and the obstacles they must face for entry-level positions. Meanwhile, underclassmen struggle against each other for unpaid internships or even volunteer opportunities. Even in classrooms, students push themselves either to get that ‘A’ they have their eye on or for that esteemed occasion when they set the curve. The fact is that competition is fierce.

It’s that time of year. Some like to call it March Madness, while others call it a test of their sanity. It’s the time of midterms, which means exams, papers and presentations, but that’s not all. This is also the time when students apply for summer internships, fellowships, jobs, scholarships and study abroad programs. For those in their final semester, it might mean the time to stress about life after commencement. Even first-years are feeling the pressures of what classes will they take next semester, needing to focus their interests and begin to think about a major if they haven’t already. It does not matter where we are in our college career. The pressures of the future are plaguing the student population.

Despite the sheer amount of applications we are filling out, these opportunities we seek in the real world are not the most significant part of our competition. Let me direct you to the closest bathroom. Walk up to the nearest sink and look up; you should see yourself in the mirror. Each of us; we are our own biggest competition. It’s not true for all of us, but characteristically, Brandeis students like to double major, double minor or something to that extent. I’ll let you in on a secret; that’s not normal. Brandeis students are an ambitious lot. We push ourselves harder than anyone else.

This leaves the origins of such drive up for question. Some might claim it’s their parents who forced them into high-achieving mind-sets, while others will describe their independent recognition of academic priority. Either of the aforementioned, however, directly or not, acknowledges the role they played, appeasing themselves or their parents to get where they are today. So, one reason why Brandeisians strive more than others is that they’ve learned to work hard. It sounds a little too simple.

Another potential explanation is one that describes many in the prestigious college setting, imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is this psychological phenomenon where people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. It does not matter how much they actually achieve or how much evidence there is to illustrate their capabilities. Mostly, it is misconceived as modesty or an individual’s self-deprecation, when truly, it is an inability to acknowledge one’s self-worth.

I have heard the stories of those who claim they got into college by accident or those who say they just got lucky. Maybe they don’t think they deserve to be here, despite their admission and despite the work they constantly undertake to maintain their status as a student here. Sometimes, we can have a conversation with one of our fellow students, whether it is in a classroom or the casual venue of a dining hall, and leave dumbfounded. We may even think we’re not smart enough to be among some of these individuals. I know I’ve felt like that more than once. This thought of not being smart enough or good enough falls under the umbrella of imposter syndrome.

Maybe that’s why everyone works so hard. We work to one-up ourselves or to accomplish something, especially if it looks good on our resume, so that we can prove to ourselves we are good enough. We all have that worry that our teachers might find out that we’re not as smart as we have been perceived, that our friends will figure out that we’re really not that funny and that we don’t deserve the good things we have worked for.

Competition is a fact of our lives. No one will avoid it, in the present or in the future because getting handed things is not the norm. So, let’s push ourselves and work for our futures. Nonetheless, along the way, we need to recognize our individual and self-evident greatness. Small or not, we have all accomplished something. Most do not believe being in college is an accomplishment. For someone who’s the first in his or her family to make it this far, it is. Many minimize the significance of being at Brandeis. For those who had community college or the local state school they didn’t want as their only other alternative, it is.

Everyone feels like they’re pretending sometimes, but it’s normal. We’re not alone in feeling the need to strive. Let’s try and not be hard on ourselves. We all have obstacles and will overcome them to get where we’re supposed to be, just like we have to get to Brandeis. Still have that mirror nearby? Look into it again. We’re not an imposter feigning intellect or competence. We’re Brandeisians.

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