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Elizabeth Schondelmayer: Dear fellow student

Dec. 6, 2017

Liz Schondelmayer is a junior intern with the CABS Integration Team majoring in political science in the College of Social Science and media and information in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. She is also a College of Social Science Scholar.

Dear fellow Spartan,

So, it happened again. My boyfriend and I were sitting in the Sny Phi cafeteria when all of the sudden a little notification popped up on my d2l account: “Contribution 3 Score – 8/10.”

Immediately, my eyes got misty. "Here we go," I thought to myself. "Hold it back, hold it back, hold it back." But it was difficult: I had lost just enough points over the course of the semester that, with these two points gone, it would be impossible for me to 4.0 this particular class. I would end with a 92 percent in this class – one percentage point below the cutoff between a 3.5 and a 4.0.

I knew this was stupid. A 92 is great! But for a second, something in me snapped. It wasn’t just that I was going to 3.5 this class, it was that I was going to 3.5 another class this semester. There are many other classes I’m taking that are much harder than this one – those are the classes I should be saving lower grades for, not this one.

It was unacceptable.

It was not okay. It wasn’t good enough.

I was not good enough.

My boyfriend looked up for his laptop a moment and saw the stress in my eyes. “What’s wrong?”

Before I could censor myself, I replied, “I’m going to fail MI 201.”

“Fail?”

“Yes!”

“Liz... fail?”

“Um… Well, 3.5 it!”

The look on his face was a blend of sympathy and frustration that, over the time we’ve been together, I’ve gotten to know pretty well. See, I said "again" in the first sentence of this little story for a reason: when you’re taking on a lot at once and trying your hardest with everything that you do, any little setback can feel like the end of the world. This is a cycle that I get caught up in quite often: taking on more than I can handle, giving 110 percent until I’m burned out and then doubting myself and my abilities.

I’ve learned by discussing these feelings with others that this experience is not unique. A lot of people know what it’s like to experience this level of self-doubt from time to time, or even more frequently. However, there is still a stigma that keeps students from expressing these anxieties, so I wanted to address this on a grand scale.

Self-doubt sucks. And when it starts to set in, it’s usually difficult to shake, especially when you see everyone else around you succeeding (or so you think). Especially at a place like MSU, where most students are highly engaged and partaking in a lot of different activities, it’s easy to feel like everyone else has their life more together than you have yours.

This is not a good way to go, because comparison is pernicious: the more you do it, the more it sneaks into your psyche and convinces you you’re not doing enough. While it’s good to keep yourself in check and keep up with your friends’ accomplishments, remember that everyone is following their own path. You will get where you want to go, but you may not get there right away, and your journey there will probably be anything but linear.

For a lot of us self-doubters, when we finally do achieve it, success can be difficult to manage as well. For example, a while back, I had an internship in which I struggled with this a lot. I was working the front desk of the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing (a wonderful organization, by the way) when I received a very distressed call from someone in a very tough situation. Somehow, I managed to keep my composure and walk the person through their problem, but as soon as the conversation was over and I hung up the phone, I felt my stomach drop and my hands start shaking. "I am not cut out for this," I thought. "Someone more qualified should be in my place right now…"

If you’ve ever experienced this, you know exactly what I’m talking about: Imposter Syndrome. It’s the feeling of being underqualified or unintelligent that makes you think you achieve things just by accident. Keep in mind that this is totally common. This is normal. Almost everyone feels it at some point or another.

Keep another thing in mind – that voice which tells you you’re a fraud is an absolute liar. Going back to my little anecdote, after that particular incident, I talked with my supervisor about how I had handled that situation and she was extremely happy with me. She even informed me that the compassion and professionalism I displayed during the interview process was part of the reason I was hired to do that job. (So, actually, I was qualified the whole time – surprise!)

In case my point got lost amidst all of this rambling, allow me to clarify a little here: Sometimes, we don’t do as well as we think we should. And we compare ourselves to the people around us, which intensifies our feelings of inadequacy. Then, finally, when things do go our way, we feel like it happens on accident and like we didn’t really earn it.

This, however, is not healthy or constructive. It’s imperative that you do the best that you can, but your best is not going to be the same as anyone else’s, and it’s important that you trust your own judgement and make decisions you’re confident with. And if things don’t work out exactly as you’re hoping – it’s okay. Pick yourself up, analyze what went wrong, then learn from it and move on.

If moving on from negative experiences is becoming difficult for you, however, that may be a sign that it’s time to reach out for help. If you feel like you’re severely losing your grip on your studies or seriously underachieving due to stress, don’t go through it alone.

While talk therapy is a great option for many people, if that’s not something you’re comfortable with, consider discussing these concerns with friends for some much-needed validation. I don’t want to see anyone forced to even entertain the thought of giving up, so if you’re starting to feel like you’re drowning, take time to resurface and catch a breath so we can see you back on campus next semester.

Maybe I only wrote this because I needed to hear it. But maybe if I needed to, somebody else still does. Regardless, take care of each other. Take care of yourself. Finish the semester strong, and remember that, as Spartans, we’re all in this together.

Best,

Liz Schondelmayer

Get support at MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services