Since Autumn, I’ve been gradually applying to my top grad school choices. Since last month, I’ve been gradually rejected from my top grad school choices. That changed this week, when I got accepted into an exciting program that I had no hope of getting into. I’ve made it through the apparently capricious process of graduate admissions. From what I can gather based on my experience and that of others, graduate admissions seem to be a massive experiment in creating a large-scale Skinner Box to elicit random, irrational behavior from human adults. Now I’m left to wallow in agonizing trepidation for several months while I contemplate a move and the prospect of learning two dead languages in a year.
The latter issue is terrifying me the most, though. After reading the thoughts of a number of a number grad students, I understand that it’s pretty common to suffer from Impostor Syndrome, in which accomplished people feel that their successes are the result of external factors, other than their own efforts, often disregarding efforts the contrary. This is a demoralizing sort of stress that grinds down people in already stressful situations. However, just because this is common, it doesn’t mean people who feel they are lucky frauds are always wrong, and I’d be a lot warier of falling victim to the equal but opposite Dunning-Kruger Effect. Impostor Syndrome seems to be sort of a cliche that some lean on as a sort of crutch, as reassurance. In all honesty, I embrace personal insecurity as a sort self-help technique. Self-doubt always drives me to improve myself, because I never feel that I am sufficiently prepared for anything. I feel that now, in a frighteningly intense way. Too much can be crippling, but this is just enough to drive me to study my brain apart from now until September.
The rejection letters I received were then powerful motivators, not setbacks. They are the stick driving me forward, for want of a carrot. And I welcome the lessons that failure and doubt bring, for they are greater instructors than success and certainty. I just hope this strategy works. Maybe I should reexamine it.