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How to Stop Living In Someone Else’s World & Start Living In Your Own 

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Stevens chapter.

It was the first day of freshman year when I began making my way to my Intro to Design class across campus, eager to begin a new chapter of my life. I left 20 minutes early to make sure I had enough time and checked the sign on the door twice to make sure I was at the right place before walking in. I scanned the room. There were a few seats taken, mostly guys, many of whom I recognized from my earlier classes, sprinkled in groups around the room. I took a seat in the back, not wanting to draw too much attention to myself.

The last few students trickled in and I looked around the room to see if any friends I’d met earlier in the day had made their way in, when I noticed there was only one other girl in the entire class, sitting on the other side of the room. I wasn’t too surprised. Going to a primarily STEM based school, I was prepared ahead of time by my friends and family to be one of a few girls in each of the clubs and classes I attended. I was convinced I was ready to feel different from the rest of the crowd at school, but overtime, experiencing it hit me a lot harder than I expected. 

It began to feel isolating, draining and even embarrassing. As days and weeks passed, I felt more and more reluctant to raise my hand to answer even the simplest questions I was once sure I knew the answers to. I didn’t want to give the class any reason to turn around and notice the girl in the back, to truly see me, to recognize me for what I was: an outsider. What if I said something wrong? What if I missed something obvious? I entered college bright eyed and ready to learn. Not a week later, I found myself so deep in a shell I could barely recognize who I had become. My fear of being seen was slowly taking precedence over my passion to learn and grow. 

It’s astounding to me how concerned and reliant I was on others’ opinions, and even more astounding that I now know that the other girls around me, including that same girl in my Intro to Design class, felt the same way. It took me halfway through the year to finally build up the courage to get up and sit down next to her after months on end of suffering alone. We immediately connected and quickly began laughing when we both jokingly pointed out how awkward it felt being the only girls in class. I was shocked. I had convinced myself this was something only I had been struggling with, that other girls were probably somehow better equipped to deal with situations like this, that they were more social, more confident, more outgoing than I was. “I mean we have to stick together, right?” she said. I finally realized how wrong I had been in thinking that I was alone, that what I’d been suffering with all year wasn’t unique. I leaned back and finally allowed myself to relax for the first time in weeks. 

How much time and anguish could have been saved if I had just gotten up and sat next to her on the first day? It’s no secret that academia (and the workplace) is dominated by men in many fields, and it’s likely something we’re all going to face at some point or another whether it be at school, work, or somewhere else. Right now, we’re still hesitant to take the actions day to day needed to assert ourselves as voices with value. It’s easy to feel drowned out in a space where you feel completely different from everyone else, in any way, and to question whether your thoughts and ideas really have worth. What if you think something different than everyone else? What if you make a mistake and people notice? I now realize things like that are good, healthy even. For classrooms, the workplace, and even society to run smoothly, there must be a fresh mix of ideas, opinions, and questions. Sometimes, someone pointing out that you made a mistake or that something you said didn’t make sense is exactly what you need to refine your original idea into something bigger, better, and stronger. 

The first step to making any progress and having the world realize what you have to say is worthy of listening to is to first deem it worthy yourself.

So, my advice? Forget sitting in the back. Pick up your backpack and sit down next to the other girl in class. Or better yet, introduce yourself to her and then sit down together next to that big group of guys.

Emily Johannan is a 3rd year Biomedical Engineering major at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Emily was drawn to HerCampus because of her desire to bring light to important causes at Stevens and the surrounding area. In the future, Emily hopes to use biomedical engineering and her desire to write to pursue a research career in the field of women’s health.