Taking a Break and Making Connections

Published in MIT News by Maisie O-Brien, MindHandHeart Initiative

MIT Senior Jahnavi Kalpathy shares her story of taking a leave of absence.

In spring of 2014, Jahnavi Kalpathy was weighing her options: She could remain at MIT and try to shake the floundering feeling that had plagued her since she arrived at the Institute. Or she could take a year-long leave of absence, using the time to reflect on her academic choices and find a clearer vision of her future. Leaving would mean missing friends and acclimating to a new class; staying would preclude the possibility of a fresh start.

“I was going through a lot of patterns and I wasn’t learning how to fix them,” says Jahnavi, now a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. “I would start off each semester doing really well academically, then I’d lose momentum and become unmotivated halfway through. I’d procrastinate and pull all-nighters, withdraw from social events, and avoid calls from my family. I was unsure where my degree was taking me, or why I’d been admitted to MIT in the first place.”

Jahnavi was struck by a persistent, nagging feeling that she didn’t belong at the Institute. “I jokingly told everyone that I got in on ‘the self-deprecating comedian quota’ — but I also believed it,” she says. In time, she learned that this feeling is called Impostor syndrome, where one is constantly afraid of being exposed as a "fraud."

The feeling was especially acute when she considered taking a leave from MIT.  “I thought taking a break proved I was a failure,” Jahnavi says. “But it turned out to be the best thing I could have done..."

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