Being Content With My Abilities

Prior to coming to Imperial, I’m sure most of us were at the top of the class, top of the school or even top in the state. We were always constantly verified on our capabilities because things came easily for all of us. Likewise, I excelled in my GCSEs and had no worries balancing my academics with my hobbies and social life. The mindset I was in can best be described by being a big fish in a small pond. I had limited knowledge about things happening outside of my school, much less my country and was living my best life in my sheltered bubble.

Getting thrown into the big pond

Even though I have heard rumours about Imperial being a tough University and engineering being a difficult course, I was not capable and ready to accept the possibility of failure due to my sheltered mindset. I shrugged away all concerns and walked into the new chapter of my life with my head held high.

During orientation week, we had an introduction lecture with one of the senior lecturers in our department. He asked everyone who were the top in our schools to raise up our hands. Immediately, almost everybody in the lecture hall had their hands up. “Look around”, he said. “Not everyone here will be in the top of this class and it is time to lower your expectations on yourself”.

The panic started to hit me even in my first week here. When we were having a group ice-breaking activity, I was amazed at the facts and ideas that people were spitting out effortlessly. Especially after not touching any academic materials for the past few months, I was slightly rusty and could not bring anything of value to the table. I spent the rest of the day panicking and preparing for the next day’s material, hoping to be able to contribute more to further discussions.

After that event, I had to constantly remind myself that I am not the best and that is okay. Easier said than done, it took me more than a year to adjust to that mindset. I loathed myself at times when I couldn’t understand particular concepts and felt awful when people submitted their work much earlier than me. It took a lot of time to accept my first failure and an even longer time to get used to it.

I remember learning coding for the first time and quitted halfway when I couldn’t grasp simple concepts, especially when people around me have already had years of practice before joining Imperial. During the summer, I decided to have a try at the coding tutorial sheets again and I realized that I managed to solve the problems much quicker than I could in Imperial. I realized that the absence of pressure looming over me helped clear my mind and a lack of comparison with others allowed me to perform much better.

It is never easy to realize and admit that you are merely a small fish in a big pond, but it is an important idea to grasp before challenging yourself. To understand and appreciate your capabilities is the first and most important step before challenging yourself to accomplish more. Even if everyone around you are achieving great things, don’t forget to look back at yourself and count all the little achievements that you have already created daily.

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