feeling small


Among thousands of students, the large majority of which are geniuses in some form, I struggle to reconcile with my feelings of inadequacy–especially since I’ve transferred into the School of Engineering this year. By some odd stroke of good fortune and I guess hard work, I wound up receiving a teaching assistant position for the discrete mathematics course that all comp sci majors/minors have to take (CIS 160).

I applied for the position because I wanted to keep learning and to join a community of people in which I could grow. I acknowledge that I worked my ass off last semester and sold my soul to office hours and problem sets, so receiving this job makes me feel like the hard work has paid off and at least somebody thinks that I’ve grown. But working hard doesn’t necessarily equate to intelligence, deep understanding, or teaching ability. When I tell friends and colleagues that I’m a 160 TA, they widen their glimmering eyes in what I perceive to be respect. This reaction makes me feel bashful and sheepish and confused and turbulent all at once. I want to exclaim, “Don’t you understand! I’m not even smart or qualified. I’m not a math whiz! LISTEN TO ME WOMAN. I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING OR EVEN WHO I AM.”

I held office hours today and walked out feeling like a desolate puddle of melted human. Understanding material sufficiently to execute a homework problem and mastering concepts so that you can dynamically bend and morph them into clear explanations are two completely different beasts. I have no confidence in myself, and that self-deprecation projects itself into my answers. I can’t stop thinking that if my previous self had me, Annie Su, as a TA, I would hate me. Why do I feel so drastically under-qualified for this job?

The TA’s for 160 are all quirky, intelligent, and nice people, and I’m grateful to have been extended a hand into this community. But being around these people throws me into a limbo of anxiety and self-doubtThis dude popped out of the womb doing math competitions. And that girl over there interned at Facebook, Apple, and all those sexy tech companies with coveted internship positions. What am I but a small, random outlier? All I have going is hard work. Slow learning. Inquiry. I know that dwelling on what I’m not doing right is wasting what little time I do have to improve and learn…but I can’t help it. And it also frightens me how ungrounded from reality I am. I can’t even think about job stuff without becoming somewhat nauseous…I’m not ready, qualified, or mature enough to participate in the adult world…

I’m starting to learn more and more that I am not these people and never will be. I’m not an AMC champion or a genius software developer at the ripe age of 17. I don’t have any of those things going for me, but that’s ok. My own set of skills (not really sure what they are though) are different. And different != bad. What I like to talk about and ruminate over, what I read voraciously until 3am, what I’m curious about, what I think about in fleeting while on the elevator–these constitute who I am and what kind of person I want to be. Why do I fret over not being like the others? The world needs more kooks, right?

(in theory)

Then the disconnect  between sound logic and visceral feeling sets in. I can’t help but feel small and inadequate anyways.



Overall I am doing ok. Not many thoughts buzzing through my mind at the moment. I took these photos with my iphone and scurried back and forth in between standing weirdly and tapping the “take photo” button. Oh the things I do for CONTENT CREATION. Don’t mind the murder eyes on the righthand photo…so tomorrow is my first radio show session! I’m DJ’ing a talk and music radio hour Sunday’s at 9am. I haven’t broadcast this to my friends yet because I’m so self-conscious I don’t think I could speak candidly and openly knowing that somewhere across the Interwebs, some person I actively interact with is listening to me! ME! Talking about stupid things and playing weird music. The franticness of this past week with tight homework deadlines portends a bleak semester ahead of me…I watched the sunrise as I clattered away on my laptop keyboard, hazily typing up some pesky math proof. What a strange feeling. Ok, I formally petition for more hours in the day. Thank you sky god(s).

I just peered outside my window. I live on the 17th floor of a high rise, and the lights outside are twinkling so effervescently I swear it’s as though they’re alive, like the small fish creatures in Ponyo.


Holy shit I can’t focus on homework ……….I hate sayings like “sophomore slump”  because all of life is a huge slump, right? But gosh I really am feeling an extra slumpy slump this time around. My head feels like this swarming mass of limp noodle thoughts that keep wriggling and interweaving madly. I feel so anxious because of school. And that fact alone is perplexing and strange and annoying to me all at once. School is not everything! School does not mandate my psyche! But it does. But it shouldn’t! But it does. But it is so much hurtling at me all the time that I can’t help but feel nauseous or have my heart quicken (and not in a romantic way in the least bit) when I think about all the homework sets pummeling my brain and sleep schedule into dust. I’ve tried to meditate lately with this app called Headspace. I think it helps me recenter when I feel like my mind is bouncing off the walls of my head. But what if this is a chronic symptom? Symptom of what? I have been spending so much time to myself all the weeks I’ve been here. And I think I prefer it that way. But I can’t tell. I prefer it that way I think, but my current state of being is just student student student. I’m a student and nothing more. I’m a robot student who turns in her programming assignments and Latex-typeset proofs and then repeats the process perpetually. College is so lonely sometimes. I want to be alone because I keep telling myself I don’t like people. But I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. I like the idea of not liking people because it means you don’t have to bear your little heart open to these people you wind up liking and then being inevitably let down in some weird way. And it’s not that people suck and let you down. It’s more like you find they’re not as pristine as the mold your mind had constructed for these people (which isn’t fair for them) or that they’re too different for you and your comfortable comfort zone. But also they let you down sometimes. And unsuspectingly. And mostly it’s yourself you’re upset with because you don’t want to feel so let down because of your unrealistic fantasies. And I don’t want to need people. But maybe I do need them in some way. I feel like I’m always going to be living my life on a separate orbit. But also in perspective what are my problems and why do they matter? Isn’t it so strange? A completely different life. A completely different set of worries. And all these worries are just as valid as the next. Just different. I’m so privileged. I know! I’m at this great school with these great opportunities and bright minds and endless resources. I live such a comfortable life and my biggest worry is just some stupid fabricated computer science assignment probably created by some old white man. An assignment that DOESN’T MATTER IN THE LONG RUN. I’m going to be 50 and look back on my worry wart self and laugh! LAUGH! But nothing seems that laughable right now. Just scary. And stressful. I still feel so turbulent and terrified and lost and uncertain and small. And all these people around me are getting internship interviews and making neat things and instituting change in this world. Isn’t that terrifying and amazing and humbling all at once? And I feel like I complain so much about school. I’m just a monkey student. That’s so sad. I just talk about school all the time. School school school. Class class class. This isn’t the only facet of my life I think I hope. Why is it the most worrying and upsetting though? There was this “School of Life” video that talks about why we overeat. We do it to fill some other void that isn’t necessarily the hunger in our stomach. It’s a hunger for love, for fulfillment, for self-actualization. School is upsetting and stressful because my underlying self is turbulent and upset and confused and stressed. Not just about school. About love, meaning, purpose, and what these stupid things even mean. I feel lonely. The actions I go through are meaningless. And I have no sense of purpose. How do you pile a mountain of schoolwork on top of a wobbly assemblage of rocks? How do I patch myself up so that I can FOCUS and DO SOMETHING.

I feel so. nauseous.

Breathing fast. Breathing anxiously. Breathing. Life here is too fast. Too much. Too “too.” Stop this train!


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alive and breathing!


  1. president amy gutmann, our fearless leader–she reminds me of a nicer version of Anna Wintour
  2. scoop of honeycomb ice cream from franklin fountain in old city
  3. peaches at the farmer’s market
  4. self-timed shenanigans
  5. afternoon flowers + klimt

School has been picking up pace this past week, but I still haven’t managed to hone in and focus on schoolwork or anything education-related lately. My brain is still drifting lackadaisically in summer meadows and fluffy thoughts…but alas, the soul-draining, spirit-crushing homework awaits in the real world…

This semester, I hope to find quiet, tranquil moments to myself amidst the pandemonium of Penn and the club representatives emphatically waving flyers on Locust, the perpetual homework sets, the vortex of office hours in the cold, austere engineering building, and the frantic anxiety that accompanies all this mess. I want to be deliberate with how I pass my time here. I’ve always gotten caught off-guard by the quagmire of school responsibilities which seems to always take precedence over all else. School is SUPREME. But I don’t want to always have my nose buried in the books or my existence eternally stationed in the library basement–I want to do things that genuinely inspire and excite me and befriend people with good hearts and open minds who can teach me how to be a better person and friend.

Ok, I say all this, but then school is going to rev up another notch, and all musings of a cooler, better lifestyle jump the cliff and go poof.

here comes a thought

*  words for personal, future reference

ok. I have come to so many points this past year where I’ve felt anxious, restless, lost, boxed in, confused, etc. And in these moments, I truly feel like I can’t get out. My thoughts manifest themselves and swarm into some insidious monster that is out of my control. Central to this year has been the question, “How do I grow? In the way I want to? How will I face these thoughts? And how do I stand stronger?”

  • I need to inculcate that thoughts are just thoughts. They’re fabricated based on my perceived reality, but a reality often times skewed and distorted in ways that undermine its integrity. I’m human. It’s in my nature to make mistakes in my judgments and interpretations. Thoughts != reality. Immanuel Kant, my home slice, asserts reality and things-in-themselves are unknowable. All that humans have are their post-digested morsels of what they perceive and interpret around them–which isn’t equivalent to the things-in-themselves. Everything is a working of the inner mind, which is so fickle and prone to fallacy to begin with.
  • dance class helps me recenter my focus. My mind is exclusively focused on movement and piques and what have you….begone irrelevant, unwanted thoughts.
  • I have my own growth cycle. From bean sprout to full human bean, who knows how long each portion of the life cycle is? There’s no timeline. I don’t need to be x, y, z by age 30 or have a, b, c by age 25.
  • every time I watch this video clip from Steven Universe, I experience this strange heart twang. It helps brings me back to earth. Earth to annie…
  • ask for help! reach out! I am so afraid of passing my burden onto others’ shoulders. This needs work. I’ve been zapped by past experiences…but they don’t speak for all future experiences.
  • love thyself………and all that “self-love” endorsement rubbish. How do I fill myself up all on my own without being dependent on the love and affirmation of others? I still feel a strange sense of loneliness after being around others for a while. Accepting loneliness as a staple of life! Self-compassion! Patience with myself!
  • music as a shield against the outer world. With my earbuds, I am (somewhat) ready to take on the world.
  • breathing.
  • LIFE IS EVERYTHING. ACCEPT IT. AMOR FATI. How can you ever know what is good without having the bad for perspective? “If you could fly then you’d feel south.” (ya that’s a Gambino quote b/c I’m ~mainstream hip~)

*on relationships

I usually don’t talk about my romantic life. And I don’t like to stew over it too deeply either. Feelings are weird, you know. Being okay and almost functional after my (romantic) relationship was so incredibly difficult. I felt like I finally let myself be vulnerable with another human being, and that was all for shit. I felt so profoundly alone. And I felt so excruciatingly confused and in pain. How could two people’s feelings diverge so greatly? What kind of insensible working of the world creates this kind of disconnect? Little human, you can love someone with all your heart, and that could never make someone feel what you would hope they feel. Was this it then?All these years I had this idealistic notion of a True Kindred Spirit. I realize that this was the genuine connection I had been looking for all along, but poof…so how was I, the most withdrawn turtle, ever going to find this again?

I still don’t know the answer to that question, but the unsolved problem doesn’t bother me as much anymore because in the grand scheme, it shouldn’t matter. I’m not living for anyone else! I’m not living to fulfill a checkbox where I “find true love”! I’m not living for the sole purpose of finding someone to share my life with! I’m not living frenziedly trying to meet strange societal deadlines!

I am making this promise to myself: I will not seek other people to fill my void. I have to fill myself first, and only with a full heart can I truly love another person (romantically, platonically). “You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”

Nine months after, I’m still talking about this breakup. I’m sure there’s some pathetic irony or overthinking in all this. Who holds onto things for this long? Scratch that question. That doesn’t matter. If nobody is crazy or nostalgic enough to hold onto the past for this long, I’ll eagerly step forward and be the first.

I would never wish the pain of a breakup even on my mortal enemy. Well, I’m not too sure. The growth that accompanies hardship is an ineffable kind of blossoming. I’ve deepened my self-awareness and given myself space to breathe and exist alright. I enjoy spending time alone and in fact, need it, to function adequately.

With all this, I want to leave this for my future self: I hope that you experience heartbreak, hardship, trials, failures, all the worst that life can throw at you. In earnest, I hope you don’t take it all too close to heart and that you stand up every goddamn time and that you really blossom into the kind of human you want to be (sounding an awful lot like Nietzsche – “To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities—I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not—that one endures.”)