It was the fall semester of my Sophomore year of college.
I walked into my interior design class and sat down on the wobbly stool, similar to those in most elementary school art classrooms. On a usual day of this class, I would get straight to work on my project, which for this semester, was a three-story Greek restaurant. But, because today was our midterm, things were a little different. Instead of getting to work, I laid out all that I had prepared for my presentation onto the table in front of me, and I looked over everything as I waited for the rest of the students to file into the room and for my professor to officially start class.
For an interior design midterm, or a midcrit as they were called, you would share your progress of your semester long project and your professor and fellow students would give you feedback on how to improve it. Harmless, right?
As class started, the first person was chosen to hang up their work on the tackable wall and present. Oh my goodness. Their project was so colorful and engaging. It was awesome. I would have totally visited that restaurant had it been a real place.
The next person’s project was so clever that I had wished my mind worked like theirs did. Who knows how they came up with the design that they did?
And what? The next person’s project looked like it was at the level where it was ready to be turned in for a final grade. How did they find the time to make it look that good?
After a few people had shared their projects, it was my turn. My project was very minimal, with white walls and pops of green here and there. I recited the spiel that I had gone over in my head about ten times as I stood in front of the classroom and waited for my critiques.
No matter how enthused my professor or fellow classmates seemed about my project, I couldn’t stop thinking about how it wasn’t as creative as some of the other ones that had been shared. My design concept wasn’t as strong, my renderings weren’t that great, the design features within the space weren’t as interesting. It wasn’t good enough, which in turn, made me believe that I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t confident in my work. Someone could have told me that my project was crap and I probably would have believed them, because in my eyes, it was. Especially compared to others in the class, regardless of what other people told me.
This wasn’t my first design class where everyone had to present in this fashion. I had two classes during the previous two semesters with this same format. This wasn’t anything new. But what was new, was that this was the first class where we worked on non-residential projects, which everyone was extremely passionate about. It was clear that everyone was putting their all into their projects. But was I? Was I as passionate about this as everyone else? Did I have what it took to be a good designer? How was I going to make it through another two years of design school, when there were all of these wonderfully talented people in my classes? I didn’t have great ideas like the other people did.
Fast forward a couple of days. It was around 11pm, and my cell phone lit up my dark bedroom as I texted my design professor from the comfort of my bed.
Do you have any tips on how I can pace myself with my work? I’m afraid I’m not going to get everything done before final crit.
As I waited for her response, I could feel myself start to tremble and tears started to form in my eyes. How was I going to do this? How was I going to get my project to a point where I was happy with it and it was at the same level of those in my class?
Just take one task at a time. There are still six weeks before the final crit. If you pace yourself, I have no doubt that you will get everything done.
At the time, I thought my feelings were about the timeline of the project and not getting it done in time to hand in. It wasn’t until years later that I realized my anxiety wasn’t about me getting everything finished on time. It was more about me not having enough time to perfect my project so that it would be on par with all of the others.
We texted back and forth until I felt okay enough to fall asleep.
The following six weeks up until my finals were hell, to say the least. These thoughts threw me into an awful spiral that took me years to come out of. Every time I would go to class, I would be on the verge of a panic attack because I didn’t want to be reminded of how awful my ideas were compared to my peers. I would get extremely anxious about even working on my design project outside of class, because I knew it wasn’t going to be good enough no matter how much time I put into it. I wouldn’t even want to talk about school to my family or friends because it would leave me in a sobbing, panicky mess. There was even one point where I considered dropping out because I felt like I wasn’t good enough for anything.
Towards the end of the semester, I was able to go to therapy and be prescribed medication which helped quell these thoughts, but this feeling of inadequacy would follow me throughout the rest of my college years. While this semester was the worst out of all of them by far, those self-deprecating thoughts still lingered until I graduated.
Looking back on my projects from college, they’re actually pretty cool. Could I have made them even better if I didn’t spend so much time worrying over them? Sure. And instead of comparing myself to my friends during that time, I should have asked them how they got the inspiration for their projects, or if they had any tips for how I could improve mine. I’m sure they would have helped– we were all friends. After all, college is about learning. It’s not a competition.