Guest Essay: Confusion Mitigation

By Anushka Kalyan
High school student in Granite Bay, CA
July 6, 2023

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog! So, hi again, I’m Anushka, I’m a high school student in Placer County. I just came back from having fun with my family in India for summer vacation a few days ago. Since I enjoy being engaged in my community, I recently applied to serve on the Placer County Youth Commission (PCYC), an advisory group that advises the Placer County Board on issues pertinent to the younger generation. A few days ago, I opened my phone to see a response from PCYC. Excitedly I viewed the email… and … (cue suspenseful music) … I saw A REJECTION?!?! But wait, that couldn’t be right. I volunteer, I help my community, what could have been the issue? I racked my brain, and I was confused as to what I did wrong.

So, I did what any normal teenager would do and doom-stalked my peers on LinkedIn. I scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled, looking as lists of ultra-exclusive programs touting my friends’ accomplishments made me feel like mine paled in comparison. Should I have had fun with my family in India at this time? Ignoring my family’s calls to let me know that breakfast was ready, I questioned the ways I have wasted time, even by sleeping for too long! I would never measure up to my frame of success. I thought about how I felt like an imposter in many of the spaces I occupy, including many of the ECOS Committee meetings that I participate in.

Now upon reflection, I see the problem with my thinking, and I hope that you do too. It’s an issue that we as an entire youth body are suffering from: We surround ourselves with people who seem to outperform us to the extent that we fail to realize how valuable we ourselves are. While it’s certainly important that we put ourselves in challenging situations, it’s important that we don’t become consumed with a feeling of inadequacy if we don’t succeed or if there is a whole lot to learn.

I love attending ECOS Committee meetings. One of my favorite experiences is being on the Sacramento Earth Day Planning Committee and learning about all the efforts that go behind uplifting our city at such a large scale. At these meetings I can gain knowledge and exposure for other real-world applications. However, there’s a LOT that I don’t understand that goes down during these meetings. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT a lot. Although I try to make the most sense of the intricate details that are explained regarding funding measures or new scientific initiatives in local regions, a lot of the times, I don’t really know the full picture of what’s going on. It hasn’t sunk in (yet), but what I and other peers like myself need to understand is that that is completely ok. We students come from educational settings that are tailored to a student’s needs and sometimes crave a faster-paced environment (pun intended). However, when we are exposed to such scenarios where professionals collaborate to solve issues that they specialize in, it is natural to perhaps feel intimidated or inadequate. I know I certainly do.

Psychology Today writes in an article from June 7, 2022 that feelings of inadequacy are more connected to self-esteem issues rather than actual performance abilities. Although it may seem that lack of knowledge causes all fingers to point to students like myself (which in part, it does), we must also realize that without the intense comparing and competition that goes on, discouraging thoughts would most likely not arise. But we play it off. We’re cool about it! We are all cool about it. We pretend like we understand everything that’s going on around us when in reality we feel as if we are playing catch-up in a game that doesn’t (and rightfully shouldn’t) wait for us to catch-up. When we see our peers seemingly thrive in situations that confuse us, we dig ourselves an even deeper hole of discouragement.

From what I see at ECOS, our work in the environmental sphere is never done. We all have so much to learn from each other, with some members knowledgeable in one area, and others knowledgeable in another area. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to learn. However, I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one experiencing feelings of inadequacy as a member of the youth and as an ECOS participant in general. Let’s explore this a little bit. According to the Harvard Business Review, around a third of young people chronically suffer from impostor syndrome, the feeling that one’s abilities will never measure up and that their achievements are somehow mistakes. What’s more, around 70% of other people are more likely to experience this at some point in their lives. I hope I don’t speak incorrectly on the behalf of others, but almost all of us are going through the same thing or have been in similar situations. We don’t all know what we’re doing even though it might seem like others have got it going on all the time. But in reality, we’re just doing the best we can. And that’s ok!

I appreciate that this ECOS blog and advocacy in general allow me to use my voice. As a balance to putting myself in challenging situations, I gravitate toward writing and speaking — where the only voice swimming around in my head, right or wrong, is mine. It’s important to switch between situations where we are intellectually challenged and situations where we can just hear ourselves out, increase our self-confidence, and make peace with the impostor living in our psyches.

If there are any other high schoolers reading this: I know we all want to be the next Einstein (which could be another blog topic in of itself). A first step is to consistently put ourselves in situations where we don’t know as much as others, and to participate as much as we can. These situations can be intimidating, especially if we stay quiet. Instead, we must try to be comfortable taking up space, letting our voices be heard, and asking questions. This signals to others that we are ready to learn. By acting in this way, we make some impression in the world, truly gain knowledge, and maintain our mental health. On the other hand, it’s summer now – a time to let our minds relax. It’s healthy and wonderful to challenge ourselves, but if we do it non-stop, we are going to completely fizzle out. And remember to catch up on some sleep!

Obviously, I don’t have all the answers, but I will continue to ask questions. To the Placer County Youth Commission, thank you for the rejection! You taught me to reframe why I do what I do; to be proactive about learning; and not to wallow in a black hole of confusion. And because of that, I am motivated for a better future!

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