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First-year imposter syndrome, rejection cycles, and living in the moment

<h6>Russell Fan / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Russell Fan / The Daily Princetonian

I arrived back at my dorm, chucking my belongings into my desk chair and trying to decompress my mind. The darkness of the room consumed what little was left of my motivation to stay awake, and soon my eyelids became too heavy to keep open. As my mind slowly shut down into a deep nap, I wondered what could have contributed to this unusual drowsiness in the second week of classes.

The central emotion that prevailed in my mind was dejection. But it was only mid-September — what could a first-year possibly be dejected about? It ironically stemmed from an aspect of Princeton’s student life that seemed like the least likely source of distress: extracurricular clubs. The array of musical ensembles, political groups, and niche organizations made it seem that a first-year student had many choices of groups to find their community. What was less apparent, though, was the extremely competitive process of joining some of these clubs, whether it was through a written application or a series of auditions. 

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Princeton encourages us to explore novel interests and opportunities throughout our time here. Taking this value to heart, I decided to audition for a dance group. I have always wanted to get into dancing, but I unfortunately lacked the time and confidence to commit to it back home. I had absolutely no prior experience with dance, but I empowered myself, with the affirmation that I would try something new, to go forward with the audition.

The late-night audition was intimidating but surprisingly fun. My fear of making an utter fool of myself with my inflexible limbs and awkward movements thankfully did not manifest into reality. The next morning, I was checking my inbox when I came to the email with my audition results. Not anticipating a miracle, I opened it up to find a conciliatory message saying that I was not selected for callbacks. 

This was fine by me — or so I thought. My initial acceptance of this decision soured into heavy disappointment. Disappointment spun into a whirlwind of resentment. The stinging bitterness soon hollowed out into melancholy, leaving me in a shell of despondency. Hypotheticals played in my mind as I scrutinized where I went wrong or what I could have done differently. This quickly fizzled down — I knew it was futile to try to ponder possibilities. Still, my mind numbed with gloom. I gazed into space, hoping to relieve the darkness of anguish that dulled and weighed down my mind.

I was surprised by my dimmed spirit throughout the rest of that day. I had not expected to get in, considering my lack of dance experience, yet retrospectively I felt that I had subtly wished for at least a callback. Perhaps this false hope was the culprit of my dejection. Or maybe I felt dejected because I deeply and subconsciously yearned to be a part of this group. Could it also be the fact that I had not experienced a rejection since receiving college decisions? 

Knowing that I shouldn’t throw in the towel after just one audition, I tried out for another dance group the following week. Though the audition was not particularly different from the previous one, I was a bit more hopeful since there were half as many students auditioning this time. So when I received the rejection email the next morning, it hurt even more. Maybe it was its commiserating tone — encouraging me to audition again, thanking me for my time — that made this second rejection feel much worse than the first one. I bashed myself for having unrealistic expectations for an activity that I had just experienced for the first time only a week ago, and this self-disdain only worsened my dejection.

I was especially demotivated by this point as many of my classmates had begun to get accepted into various clubs. They had found their communities, while I was still in the limbo of finding one to be a part of. The imposter syndrome started to prevail, and I tried to stop myself from comparing myself to others, all to no avail.

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As I kept battling these comparisons, I eventually found that the antidote to my dejection was right there: in the present.

Why was I pressuring myself to immediately find a group on campus to join? Rushing to seek a space where I felt I belonged was only going to bring distress, and miserably mulling over my unsuccessful auditions wasn’t going to help. Failure to get into a club in the first weeks of my first year was not going to dictate the rest of my four years. There will be plenty of time to thoroughly investigate what groups spark my interest, invigorate a passion for me, and ultimately bring me wholesome joy. Success is not limited to current achievements; it also encompasses future endeavors that I can build for myself.

Instead of focusing on the rejections of the present, my mind lifted itself up to await the opportunities of the future. I slowly stretched my eyelids open to find that the room was now engulfed in rays of sunshine. No longer was the room dark; the mid-afternoon sun flooded it with soothing light. The dimness faded, along with the heavy demotivation in my body. 

I was ready to continue the rest of my Wednesday.

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Russell Fan is a contributing writer for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at rf4125@princeton.edu, or on Instagram @russell__fan.

Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their views and lived experiences. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at prospect@dailyprincetonian.com.

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