If you’ve ever procrastinated, writes Jonathan Compo, you’re in better company than you realize.
An acute trigger for my imposter syndrome is that Mark Costello interview in which he describes living with David Foster Wallace after college, while Wallace was drafting his first short story collection, Girl with Curious Hair. Costello reports there were weeks during which, if he left the room for any period, Wallace would have drafted a new story in his absence. The interview where Lin Manuel Miranda describes leaving a dinner party early to write the rest of the song after receiving in a flash the whole first verse of ‘Wait For It’ has a similar effect. Or the fact that Eric Whitacre wrote ‘Water Night’ in forty-five minutes. Or that Lady Gage wrote ‘Born this Way’ in just five. Your triggers may be different, but those are mine.
I didn’t know I had imposter syndrome, was skeptical of the whole concept, until I began watching Vee Kativhu’s YouTube channel yesterday. See, I was procrastinating on a biology lab report. (On which, this essay is itself further procrastination.) I was procrastinating and, as usual, feeling bad about it, guilty, unworthy of my degree and the privileges afforded me, like I was wasting money, so much money and breaking my parents’ trust. Those feelings sound like symptoms; but I wasn’t guilty enough to really have imposter syndrome, was I?
Imposter Syndrome is, it turns out, a kind of loneliness. It’s the loneliness of feeling as though you’re worse, less deserving than others in your position. The cure is simple: all you have todo is believe that other people are struggling just as you are struggling. It’s the closest real life gets to the Polar Express. If you believe Santa is real, then he is! If you believe you’re not alone, then you are not alone.
Of course, convincing yourself that others are struggling just as you are struggling is difficult. And so-called StudyTube doesn’t help. Most StudyTubers offer their lives as aspirational models for the struggling student. Seeing someone else make top marks or study for fourteen hours is supposed to make you feel as though you could do the same. In reality, though, most of these StudyTubers just make me feel useless. (And further, one could ask whether fourteen hours of straight studying is something worth aspiring to in the first place, or whether these channels promote a dangerous and unhealthy cult of work. See: Late Capitalism.) That’s where Vee Kativhu’s channel comes in. She is an example of what I call an Anti-StudyTuber. Vee shows her life in all its messy, stressy detail and acknowledges the reasons why she doesn’t always perform to the impossible standards set by StudyTubers. These reasons range from apparently personal failings, procrastination, to the systemic, racism.
There is a certain trendy, pinteresty post floating around the internet, a list of beautiful words without English translations. Here’s two good ones: Hiraeth, Welsh for longing for a never-experienced homeland and Mamihlapinatapei [mama-lap-it-uh-pie], a Chilean dialectical term for a long look shared by two people, both wanting to start something and both too afraid to try. The most important, though, the most vital, the most beautiful phrase I’ve learned recently for which there is no American English equivalent is Essay Crisis. Many of Vee’s videos bear this Britishismas a subtitle. It describes the situation, common to so many students, of having left an essay until the last minute, and being forced, therefore, to write it in an extreme rush.
I’ve always wanted to write fast, almost as badly as I’ve wanted to write well. I want to be prolific. And a reason, I think, I’m provoked by stories of real writers’ industry, is that they make me feel ineligible. Real writers don’t have essay crises, I thought. That they do, that one can procrastinate and still be a good student, that poor time management doesn’t mean you have no potential, that you’re not alone were affirmations I didn’t know I needn’t.
I realized I needed them and realized I had imposter syndrome as soon as I started watching Vee’s channel. My first video featured Vee and her friend, Malala, recording their shared essay crisis. The sight of these women, so accomplished, so obviously deserving of their respective achievements, acknowledging that they still do just sometimes ignore things, made me realize: ‘ah, okay, maybe, hopefully, possibly I’m not a wastoid.’ It made me feel less alone. Absolutely and completely, completely obviously, Vee and Malala Yousafzai have done so, so, so, so, so much more to deserve their educations than I have mine, but it was just this fact, their ludicrously surplus credentials, that made the realization of their procrastination so profound.
Procrastination and other such behaviors, the sins by which we often justify our self-deprecation and imposter syndrome are just realities of being a student. Do some people write their essays the day they’re assigned? Sure. But some people don’t, and the former camp isn’t ipso facto superior to the latter. Your industry and conscientiousness are not determinants of your value. If you wait till the night before to write an essay, the only thing about you anyone can reliably diagnose is that you will be tired. To the elders reading, maybe you think I’m justifying laziness, and to you I say: O.K., boomer.
Procrastination has become a Millenial—Gen-Z social reality: it’s not about individual laziness. The work that needs to be done is not on improving personal productivity but on creating the conditions where more people have the luxury of procrastination, by which I mean, of course, where more people have equitable access to education. And while we’re working towards that world, maybe we can be a little nicer to ourselves. If Vee can have her essay crises and still be Vee, then I can have essay crises and still be me. And so can you