I was born in the small farm town of Thomaston, Georgia with a population of about 9,000 people and a total area of 9.2 square miles.
Then I moved to Lumberton, North Carolina, with a population of a whopping 20,000 people and 15.8 square mile area. You can imagine the shock that followed when I moved to Raleigh and began attending a university that has more enrolled students than the number of people in any of the towns I had ever lived in.
It is an intimidating adjustment when it takes you longer to walk across your entire college campus than it did to drive from one end of your town to the other. I felt certain that I was going to flounder. That I was going to be scared and alone thrown into this massive mix of people.
I found that the easiest way to make this huge campus feel a little smaller was to get involved with as many organizations that I felt I could balance with my class load. I joined the Student Wolfpack Club to meet other students interested in attending NC State sporting events. I joined the Collegiate Shag Association because I enjoy dancing and listening to beach music. I joined a sorority, which brought me a great group of friends that I live with three years later. I got a work study within the engineering department, which connected me with older engineering students who gave me advice on all kinds of helpful assets around campus.
Within no time, I started making friends and my free time outside of D.H. Hill Library was spent doing events and activities with the organizations I was a part of. My feelings of loneliness faded away and I wasn’t scared or intimidated by the size of the campus or the city, but rather excited to take hold of all that was being offered. I surrounded myself with people who had similar goals and work ethic so that I could not only enjoy my time outside of school, but also my time spent in class or studying, which proved to be a lot of time.
I found myself confident in my personal life, but struggling in my academic life. I came to NC State from a smaller high school, at which I was top of my class. I never really had to study for any of the classes I was in. I think my “studying” might have consisted of looking over my notebook the night before. I was considered one of the smart kids and never had to put forth much effort to excel in school. However, for the first time in my life, the material I was learning in my college courses wasn’t coming to me naturally.
Sometimes, I still struggle with feeling like I’m just a small girl from a little rustic town…
I spent hours at the library every night in order to ace my exams in the same way that I had in high school. As time progressed, classes got harder and I was putting in the same amount of effort as before, but sometimes the results didn’t reflect that. I had to start going to my professor’s office hours and attending tutoring sessions to keep my grades up. I felt like maybe I had been considered a “smart kid” at home, but compared to all of the students at NC State, I wasn’t smart at all. I felt like I was having to try twice as hard just to keep up with everyone else around me.
I wasn’t feeling this way only in class, but in other aspects of my professional life as well. I had struggled with feeling like I wasn’t smart enough or didn’t deserve to be where I was since before I had even gotten on campus. When I got offered to join the Goodnight Scholars Program, I couldn’t believe it was true. I kept waiting for an email that said they mixed up some applications and the accolades were actually meant for someone else. On interview day, I had met people who had gotten into Ivy League schools or had developed non-profit businesses. I was just a young girl with a passion for STEM. I had never been exposed to the involvement opportunities that half of the people I was interviewing alongside had, and I couldn’t help but feel inferior.
This feeling followed me through every achievement that I experienced. I always felt like I had somehow slipped through the cracks, that I was fooling everyone and I didn’t warrant the things that were happening to me. I had no idea why I felt this way until one day I saw a flyer for a speaker coming to campus talking about something called imposter syndrome.
The speaker, Dr. Valerie Ashby, described imposter syndrome as feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is most often associated with high-achieving, successful people. It is a common affliction for women in STEM to feel like their accomplishments are not from their own hard work, but rather random coincidence or luck. Discovering that this feeling has a name and is shared among people with similar aspirations as me has helped me put all of this into perspective.
Sometimes, I still struggle with feeling like I am just a small girl from a little rustic town. How could I ever be succeeding among all of the intelligent people I am surrounded by? However, I have learned that to stop feeling this way I have to stop comparing myself to others. I have learned to recognize my accomplishments rather than discount them and to accept praise rather than deflect it. It requires a shift in your mindset that takes time and conscious effort, but the results are far more rewarding than the labor.
If you find yourself doubtful of your abilities, learn to have faith in yourself. Have the confidence to do what scares you and learn to own your achievements, big or small. No matter where you come from, you’re capable of doing whatever you set your mind to, regardless of how terrifying it may seem at first.
Photography credit: Jason Perry/Goodnight Scholars Program