“Are you premed?” is the most common and frequent question I am asked after mentioning that I attend Hopkins or am majoring in Neuroscience. I have become accustomed to the blank, confused stares that I receive as I coolly respond with “Actually, no.” Part of me has come to enjoy the surprise and uncertainty I am greeted with while the other part of me is consistently disappointed by the set expectation for my future career plans.
A common topic of conversation my freshman year at Hopkins circled around impostor syndrome. When 99% of my graduating class was in the top 10% of their high school class, having an average 3.9 to 4.0 grade point average and a bolstering list of achievements prior to stepping foot on campus, it’s easy to get lost in the feeling of inadequacy.
All Hopkins students are undoubtedly really, really smart. It can be incredibly inspiring and encouraging to be surrounded by such high-caliber students, but it can also be suffocating. Personally, I have felt less pressure from the looming presence of impostor syndrome and rather by the Hopkins student body and community itself.
Our University, like any college environment, is incredibly competitive. The nature of this competitiveness at Hopkins, however, stretches beyond healthy motivation and creates a toxic environment.
It can be hard not to compare. Talking to a random Hopkins student, you’ll likely hear about their most recent endeavor conducting research, an internship or their current overloaded course schedule. While I thoroughly enjoy hearing people speak about their current research or activities and goals, passion is often not the motive behind these conversations.
There is an obsession with doing the most one possibly can to establish oneself as a worthy and valid member of the Hopkins community.
“I only slept four hours last night, and I have a midterm and a paper this week,” is immediately countered with “I didn’t sleep at all last night, and I have a midterm and a lab due today.” People always seem to be one step ahead of you while simultaneously having it worse than you.
Mental health is something rarely discussed at Hopkins. I have found on-campus resources to be limited, as our Counseling Center is structured to solve students’ short-term goals rather than focusing on long-term care, which I believe more students need. During University-wide “Wellness Days,” one can still expect to find students around Brody catching up on assignments or finishing work due the same day. There is an inadequate effort by University administration to properly address student mental health and to promote balance in students’ lives.
Finding balance is incredibly difficult, let alone in an environment that constantly pushes you to be more productive. When taking a break, I often feel like I am falling behind because I'm not doing anything constructive.
My freshman year was filled with the all-consuming thoughts of “Am I doing enough?” and creating a facade that I too, like my peers, knew what I wanted to do and who I should strive to be. Entering my sophomore year, I was determined to put my mental health first and to make changes that would allow me to find a healthy balance in my life.
For me, this means exploring new career paths by getting involved with different activities that I would not have previously explored. It means trying out new hobbies, even if I’m not good at them. You don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it. It means leaning into the uncomfortable stares when I tell someone that maybe I don’t know what I want to do with my life just yet.
College is a place for us to explore new interests without being afraid to fail or be judged for our mistakes. In accepting that I don’t need to have everything planned out and that who I already am is greater than who I could potentially be, I have been able to find balance and peace with where I am right now. Ideally, college should be a place where we can embrace our individual identities without comparison or competition.
If you’re too busy trying to be someone else, who is going to be you?
Grace Van Atta is a sophomore from Montclair, N.J. studying Neuroscience and Psychology. They write for Opinions and Sci-Tech for The News-Letter.