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Rethinking duck syndrome


I write this article on Oct. 21, hardly a month since I began college on Sept. 20. Days simply float by, and I feel giddy, whether I’m observing bizarre dorm conversations or debugging code alone for six straight hours until 4 a.m. When people ask, “How’s college?” or “How are you?” I mean it when I say, “Great!”

All this happiness sounds like a bad case of Duck Syndrome — that awful attitude where Stanford students allegedly place carefree, rose-tinted glasses over crippling insecurities, sky-high piles of work and yet-unachieved dreams.

But the Stanford sunshine isn’t blasting me with Duck Syndrome. It’s blasting me with self-acceptance, then self-love, then self-empowerment.

Since middle school, I tiptoed around believing too much in myself and felt cripplingly terrified that others might overestimate me. I dismissed praise and barely recognized accomplishments. Instead, I quite enjoyed self-deprecation, using it to clarify what I believed were my actual capabilities. After all, behind me stood the critical influences, however indirect, of my wonderful parents, teachers and friends. (A consequence of my negative thinking appeared amusingly and frustratingly in my college apps: I had a ball of a time detailing my bumbling in the tragic story of the death of my beloved Venus fly trap, Fred von Trapp I. I quickly, regretfully trashed that essay.)

But since coming to college, my mindset has been shifting. I’m surrounded by so many opportunities, discussions about dreams and the freshman belief that we can achieve them. Whenever I deliver an epic self-roast or worry about my ability to tackle all of Stanford’s opportunities, fellow students have been refreshingly, unfailingly supportive.

Secure in others’ belief in me, I think something very, very, very foreign is sneaking into me — something like unadulterated competency, agency, self-positivity. I came to Stanford preparing to shield myself against Duck Syndrome’s superficial positivity; instead, the campus positivity has done so much — if only for a day — to genuinely uplift my self-concept. Even on a day lacking 100 percent (or even 10 percent) productivity, I believe my life is in order. I bike places with a sense of physical and spiritual direction, buoyed by the notion that I actually possess the ability to plan my future the way I want it.

Allow me to back up for just a moment from this flood of elated rambling. My perfect contentment does not mean that I feel perfect — my showering habits are falling apart, 2 a.m. is the new bedtime, and I have scarcely any idea how I’ll figure out my next quarter classes, major, life philosophy — much less complete all the homework still listed in my little notebook. The spiritual high must crash, and at some point in the future I’ll be penning journal entries worthy of “Stanford University Places I’ve Cried.”

But right now, alone at midnight in Loro’s dorm lounge, draped across two sofas, I feel so rosy, so severely marvelous! For the first time ever, I am not only completely content with my situation, but also with myself.


Contact Millie Lin at milliel ‘at’

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Hello! I'm particularly interested in stories and society, and I do write in my journal...about once a I'm super excited and thankful that now I can ramble about my life and my thoughts to you all!