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Treading Water

Contentment is hard to gauge. As I reflect upon my first three months at Yale, I struggle to process my emotions towards my college experience thus far; I am unsure if I feel satisfied or disappointed.

In order to mitigate the stress of coursework, most students turn to extracurricular activities. However, many prestigious clubs at Yale require tryouts. Of course, one had to satisfy similar prerequisites in high school—Mock Trial, Model UN, Speech and Debate. Now, the difference is the level of competition. On campus, students specializing in a particular field strive against one another to gain admission into the same clubs in which they participated in high school, yet number one in high school does not guarantee a spot in any organization in college.

I loved to debate throughout my senior year of high school. As I speculated about my first year at Yale, I knew I wanted to join the debate team. I hoped my previous successes would carry through to the series of tryouts. But, even with a successful career in high school debate, I did not make the team.  The following week mentally challenged me to an extent I had not yet experienced in college. I lost confidence in myself and in my ability to perform. I knew I had a knack for debate, yet, I seemed to pale in comparison to my other peers. In my disappointment, I found it impossible to give myself credit for how objectively well I had performed. I also recognized the loftiness of my expectations as I transitioned into a new academic environment.  Despite the callback I received after my first tryout, I did not feel accomplished by any means. Thankfully, other people put my feat into perspective, but several weeks passed before I could rebuild the self-confidence that had taken so long to obtain.

I found myself suffering from a severe case of imposter syndrome. Towards the end of my senior year of high school, I was warned by friends and family I would feel inferior in my capabilities given the high-achieving environment of Yale. Although their counsel resonated with me, I believed my self-confidence would prevail. I was wrong. My defining skill seemed to dissipate before my eyes. I felt I hadn’t brought anything impressive to campus while everyone around me boasted a slew of talents. If I couldn’t even make the college team, how could I merit and refer to myself as a debater?

A slippery slope of self-doubt ensued; I questioned my place at this university. I doubted my ability to manage the workload, and I held the opinion I was biting off far more than I could chew.

But, it did get better.

Time is a powerful healer. As weeks advanced,  I established a weekly routine and sought meaningful activities to occupy my time. I joined activities I wholeheartedly enjoyed, finding a more equitable balance between work and play. As my college life took shape, my confidence followed. I was reassured that I could handle my classes, reminding myself of the sacrifices I had made to earn my spot as a member of the student body.

I began to feel more settled as fall semester approached its end. All I seemed to have needed was an adjustment period. When chatting with friends about it, they too claimed to feel at times out of place. This lifted a small weight off my shoulders, but not all of it. There was still malaise. Unsure whether I missed home, my closest friends, or something completely unrelated, I put it aside, carrying on with my semester less concerned with my legitimacy.

While I became more satisfied with my choices, fulfillment does not equal contentment. I was not yet satisfied with my overall experience. For months, I expected my perception of the semester to improve, but unrelated to homesickness or boredom, it only plateaued. Something has just felt off.

After my first fall semester at Yale, I struggle with the question, “Am I happy here?” Truthfully, I don’t entirely know yet.

By Nathaniel Miller.

This is good for me.