I believe you aren’t a real college student until you experience imposter syndrome. Upon entering a rigorous university, I was absolutely jump-scared by and smacked in the face with every possible symptom of imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is a state of mind characterized by a constant, self-deprecating comparison to those around you, which typically ends in feeling like a phony.
For some context, I was that girl who overextended herself in high school. From being involved in every extracurricular activity I could get my hands on to being a “Troy Bolton,” running from track practice to musical rehearsal (metaphorically and literally), along with doing exceptionally well academically — I was truly passionate about everything I was involved in. I was a proud, well-rounded student.
Yet, getting to college got rid of that self confidence. I was bending over backwards in high school, but in college, the people around me were doing backflips and cartwheels. If I ran a fundraiser in high school, the person next to me also ran one, and they raised more money. I was a part of several choirs in high school, and when I auditioned for a cappella in college, I was rejected before I could even think about callbacks. I used to study the morning of for tests, and now, I feel like I never study as much as the next person. In almost every scenario, it felt like every single person was doing more than me. They were smarter than me — better than me.
Imposter syndrome also has a strange way of making you think it’s your fault. That maybe you truly aren’t smart enough. That you really did just get lucky in high school. That you really won’t fit in, as much as you think you will. Hence, feeling like a phony. And I know I’m not the only one.
But, things do improve! It is currently my second semester of my freshman year, and I’ve found several tips and bits of advice when it comes to fighting imposter syndrome.
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that everyone is on their own path. While you can’t help but compare yourself to the person next to you who’s majoring in astrophysics and is the president of the rocket club, sit and think about if you’re even interested in astrophysics! It’s so easy to compare yourself and forget that their path is not necessarily yours, therefore what they do isn’t always what you’re supposed to be doing. Focus on your own path instead of others, and slowly those thoughts will start to clear.
Another tip I learned was actually after sharing my feelings at one of my professor’s office hours. She told me that “while the person next to you is doing so much, remember that doing more does not equate to being better.” She then explained that while they’re overextending themselves, they’re also forgetting to make time for themselves, having fun with friends, and making the most of their college experience. There’s a reason why it’s called “work-life balance” — because it’s truly a balance. To perform the way you want to academically, you need to balance it out with things that bring you relaxation and fulfillment!
Lastly, I want to point out an interesting article written by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey for the Harvard Business Review. In “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome,” they walk the reader through why imposter syndrome isn’t to blame for wavering confidence in women, especially women of color. They explain factors like bias and exclusion in the workplace and counter the negative connotation of the label “imposter syndrome” itself.
This article brings a fantastic point to the table. If you are a person of color, having these feelings of wavering confidence and doubting yourself is almost unavoidable due to external factors. Just being in a predominately white institution can raise thoughts like, “Wow, I’m not like anyone around me here,” which hold a strong similarity to those thoughts of imposter syndrome. As a person of color, I’m still figuring out how to deal with these feelings and it is something I will be struggling with for the rest of my college career.
I know imposter syndrome can feel paralyzing at times and almost unavoidable, and the truth is, sometimes it is unavoidable. However, I hope after reading this article, you feel a bit more encouraged.