It’s been nearly two decades since that fateful day. A day I can barely remember. A day I can never forget. The day I flunked my prelims at Brown. The day I decided to leave. The day I chose to leave.
A recent string of suicides at MIT has drawn attention to a mental health phenomenon unique to the Ivy League and other highly competitive schools. I am sure India’s IITs have the same phenomenon. Imposter syndrome they call it. That overwhelming sense that you don’t deserve to be counted among the best and brightest. That admissions made a mistake. That your classmates, your professors, your school will figure out that you’re an imposter.
Maybe I was, and maybe I wasn’t. I did flunk my prelims after all, right? So, I must be. Right?
I worked hard to get into Brown just like everyone else. I deserved to be there. And, so do you. You know who you are. You’ve just gotten into your dream school. You’ve just finished your first year. You’ve just finished attending a lecture by Umberto Eco or Ken Burns. (Both of whom are pompous windbags, btw.). You’re standing in the middle of the quad and looking around at all the rich, smart kids and thinking:
“How did I get here? Why did they pick me? I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve this.”
But, you’re wrong. So very wrong.
You do deserve it. You are good enough. And even if you fail, at least you failed on your own terms. At least you’ve failed at one of the best schools in the country, in the world.
Because like some of you will, I failed. Big time. I didn’t just flunk one exam. I flunked them all. Only losers did that. Only the potheads who got in because their daddies paid their ways. People like me, the A-types with the brains and the drive, didn’t fail. We didn’t flunk. We chugged along. Steam coming out both ears. Until we hit that wall. That wall that reads:
END OF LINE.
Sorry, kid. But, you can’t go any farther. That’s it. That’s the breadth and depth of your success. Your Little Engine that Could just couldn’t any more. Steam’s run out. No more fuel. You’re done.
But, you’re not done. At least not yet.
You have the rest of your life. All of your life. All the lives of your mom and dad and brother and sister. All the life of that special someone. That person you haven’t met yet. That person who will believe that you are more than just an imposter. That person who will see you as real, who will see the real you.
Really. I promise.
I promise that there’s life after failure. That there’s life after the Ivy League.
My life has been a dream after the Ivy League. After the Ivy League, I met my husband. After the Ivy League, I lived in India. After the Ivy League, I found my real self.