BY KATELYNN PALUCH
On Imposter Syndrome, Creative Burnout, and Being the Only STEM Major Editor
If you’re anything like me nowadays, you probably submitted to Opus less than 10 minutes before the deadline with an email apologizing for the horrible nature of your submissions. And, no, I’m not joking. In the email I sent this fall, I described myself as having “creative brain rot”, which is a really fancy way of saying “hey, I haven’t written any poetry so please take some journal entries I transformed in two hours. I’m a poetry editor so I feel obligated to submit something”.
We often believe that if we truly love something we will continue to excel at it even when our brains are telling us we need a break. Take me for example: I’ve always been entranced by the power of the written word and I jump through mediums like a tiger through rings at a circus. I’ve been reading chapter books since I was three (ask my mom, she read a Boxcar Children book to prove I was just looking at pictures and she was wrong). I started dreaming of becoming a popstar in first grade, and wrote my first song in second. I wrote 45 chapters of an awful Divergent spin off series featuring my best friends in middle school. In high school I performed songs I composed with my choir. During freshman year of college, I discovered the power of poetry and filled an entire notebook in the span of three months. But now, it feels like a chore to even put my pen to paper, let alone submit a poem. Everything I create feels lackluster.
It can be hard to remember that creativity comes in seasons, just like the weather. When your attention is divided, when there is no time to focus on creativity, it tends to slip to the wayside. And, as a senior majoring in Biochemistry, I know that better than anyone. My days are filled with calculus equations and labs. I spend my brain power on proteins with long acronyms such as MTHFD1L and SHMT2, affectionately known as Mitty and Shmitty. If I have enough time to make dinner I count it as a win, let alone having time to write for myself. And if you have no time to breathe, there’s no time to be creative either! But what do you do if creativity is an integral part of your being?
Even if you don’t have the energy to create, take the time to explore the work of others. Sometimes it can spark your own creativity! And no, I’m not just talking about poetry. Engage yourself in other creative pursuits if you can’t seem to connect with your preferred medium. Personally, I’ve been singing my stress away to MUNA and Orla Gartland as well as doing abstract watercolors. We don’t normally think about these small things as “creative pursuits” because they don’t create something tangible for other people to praise or detest. As creatives, we are used to churning out work for the public or friends or family when sometimes creativity is just for you. That can result in many feelings of guilt, shame, or loss of identity which leads us to imposter syndrome and how it can be exacerbated by creative burnout.
It can be hard to feel like you belong in a community of creators when you aren’t creating things you want to share. It’s doubly hard when you don’t feel like you belong even when you’re creating. Because I spend most of my time in an alternate realm of bomb calorimeters, qPCR, cell culture, and MCAT studying, it’s easy for me to feel lost at Opus meetings when my fellow editors are discussing common classes or creative writing assignments. Maybe I look like I belong, but in my mind it’s just a matter of time until I’m unveiled as an imposter. I liken it to the once popular game Among Us, which I played incessantly with my younger cousins, where one person is killing everyone aboard a spaceship while pretending to be helpful.
However, I am fully aware that almost every person at Opus doesn’t feel like they belong in that room. We set such high expectations for ourselves as poets, writers, and artists that inevitably fall flat due to the fact that we are still young and learning. Feeling like a fraud is a common part of the creative experience. So, what can I tell myself when I’m struggling to write and feel like I don’t belong?
- All types of people can be creators, even if you spend most of your time doing something else.
I often remember my hesitance to submit to Opus my sophomore year, not because I didn’t like my poetry but because it didn’t fit my “social mold” of a biochemistry premed. As I continue to meet people through Opus, I realize how important it is that we step outside of our comfort zone so that others are able to step out of theirs. I’ve met quite a few science majors at Opus events involved in different forms of art so I can tell you with certainty that we do exist!
- You deserve grace, no one has it figured out (yes, including the actual English major).
Everyone gets rejections, including the person you think holds the moon and the stars and is the creator of all amazing poetry in the universe. They kept creating though and look what they’ve done! Imagine what you could do if you just let yourself keep trying even if its ugly and horrible and sad sometimes. Maybe that’s part of the reason I still submitted something this semester, despite my insistence that it was horrible. In the end, I still tried and that’s enough.
- It’s okay to take a break and focus on other things.
I’ve been watching a K-drama recently called Oh My Venus where the main character says “For just one day, I would like to be happy under a yellow light”. That’s where I am in my creative process right now, in the waiting. As I wait, I allow my life to fill with other things: with coffee dates with mentees and volunteer opportunities and the tedious task of refilling tip boxes in my research lab. I hope that if you are also in the waiting period that you can remember that growth happens both outside and inside of the creative process. I’m excited to see what we create when the light turns green again.
About the Author
Katelynn Paluch is an aspiring physician-poet majoring in Biochemistry. This creatures’s varied interest include mitochondria, jazz music, a K-pop idol known as Kang Taehyn, collecting lavender stationary with cute bear stickers, and trying to survive on a gluten and dairy-free diet. You can find this endangered species on the 3rd floor of the Schaap woth mutliple textbooks, crumpled pieces of paper, and a calculator, or, rarely, walking around their habitat of Holland at sunset.