Many UC Berkeley students have “impostor syndrome,” which is when they are afraid that they aren’t good enough to be a student here. But my experience with this insecurity is a bit more nuanced than that. I don’t worry that I’m not good enough to be a student here. Rather, I worry that I will never be better than I am now — I worry that this is all I’ll ever amount to.
Whenever I read a new book or watch a new movie, I have a subconscious habit of immediately identifying with the protagonist, regardless of whether I actually bear any similarities to the character. When I read “The Hunger Games,” I saw myself in Katniss Everdeen, and when I finished “Breaking Bad,” I told myself that I was “just like Walter White.” Maybe it’s narcissistic of me, but I think I tend to identify with main characters because, to me, life is a story, and I’m always trying to create the most interesting one.
Up until recently, I felt like I have succeeded in that. But I’m not so sure it’ll last.
I know it’s taboo and lame to talk about high school in college, but the truth is, I loved it. I was lucky enough to have the perfect story, the full fairy-tale high school experience. I got to make friends who I can say with confidence will still be in my life 20 years from now. I got to go to the robotics world championships for the first time in my school’s history. I got to date (and still am dating) my dream girl. I got to be a leader in so many projects I cared about, from campus ministry to Asian Pacific Islander club. I got to be, dare I say it, not only popular, but relevant — or at least I felt like I was.
And it’s the fear that I will never again capital-M Matter that haunts me.
The internet is full of motivational tweets and posts that assure you that you will end up healthier, wealthier and happier than the cool kids in high school. But what does that mean for the people who were cool kids? Will I ever outdo my teenage self, or will the highlight of my existence be being elected to the high office of prom king my senior year? It’s hard to tell if there is any possibility of going up from here. Maybe I’m paralyzed into living the rest of my days in the shadow of a younger version of me.
The first semester of college was an awkward time for me because I felt sandwiched between my accomplishments of the previous four years and the uncertainty of the next four. I had a clean slate, which was good in a lot of ways, but scary in others. Attending college means that there is an infinite world of possibility before you, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll reap the benefits of that potential. I kept trying to remind myself that, as a new student who had literally been here for less than 15 weeks, it was understandable that I had not yet done anything worth commemorating.
“I’ll get there eventually,” I told myself.
But the prospect hid in the back of my head that perhaps I never will get there — that when I contemplate my life’s arc on my deathbed, the highest point will be one March afternoon in 2017 when I opened my college decision email announcing my admission to the No. 1 public university in the world. I’m afraid I will be a 19-year-old burnout and that everything following high school will be one monumental sophomore slump.
I grew up being told that I was meant for something great. I know lots of kids get told that, but I took the gravity of that statement to heart, just like one of the protagonists I’ve related to as of late: Nina from the musical “In the Heights.” In her introduction song “Breathe,” we learn that Nina, the first member of her minority community to go to college, has secretly dropped out of Stanford and is anxious to tell the people back home — the people who looked up to her as the golden child of her community.
Although everything turns out okay for Nina in the end, I’m terrified that I will someday be that fallen hero — but without the redemption. I’m afraid to let down the countless number of people who have loved and supported me because they deserve to have their faith in me rewarded. I know I am fully responsible for whether that happens, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be more than what I already am: I’m scared. I’m scared that this is it and that my life from this point onward will consist not of conflict and climax but of falling action down into a forgettable conclusion.
If you have read this article to the end expecting some aha moment to complete the emotional arc, I apologize. As a writer, I have betrayed the trust of the reader. My story doesn’t have a conclusion because I am still living my tale, still trying to live that perfect story. As of today, I don’t know if I’ve peaked yet. But maybe that’s a good thing. After all, the best stories keep you guessing until the very end.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.