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Dealing with Imposter Syndrome in University

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

Some may say imposter syndrome pushes us to be our best selves. For many, that might be true, but for me, this wasn’t the case.

As a first-year university student, I was excited to be at a new school in an unknown city, learning about subjects I was passionate about. I was ready to enjoy my university experience. That innocent enthusiasm quickly disappeared when I met dozens of students who either already had tons of job experience related to my degree or already had opportunities eagerly lined up. Within a week of my first year, I developed imposter syndrome. 

According to an article by Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome is defined as “doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud,” and high-achieving individuals may have a hard time accepting their accomplishments.

It only took me one week in university to experience this feeling, and not only did it stop me from feeling proud of my own accomplishments, but it made me fall down an endless rabbit hole of worry that I will never be better than my peers. 

This feeling of unworthiness lasted throughout my first and second year, where I struggled to feel accomplished as other students in my program continued to gain more and more opportunities. 

Professors and adults around me consistently recommended putting myself out there – applying to everything, experiencing it all, taking every opportunity you can. But no one ever talked about the effects of this on our mental health and our ability to relax and enjoy the stage we’re in.

Although imposter syndrome pushed me at times to participate and engage in extracurricular opportunities and get my name out there, it also encouraged the idea that anything I did was not enough. None of my accomplishments were actually accomplishments in my head and this quickly led to a downward spiral of stress, all thanks to constantly comparing myself to my high-achieving peers.

I entered my second year feeling like completing my first year with good grades and getting on the dean’s list wasn’t enough. Seeing all my other peers’ articles being published and all their contributions and involvement around campus made me feel like it wasn’t okay that I was working at a slower pace and wasn’t ready to put myself out there.

Eventually, this constant worry and feeling of self-doubt took away from appreciating where I was in my life. I am still young and there is still time to gain experience, but in the first two years of university, I felt like my time here wasn’t enough. 

Looking back, I wish I wasn’t so stressed about gaining extracurricular experience in my job field at ages 18 and 19. Yes, it pushed me to get out of my comfort zone, but when reflecting on the past, the stress of it took away from what was supposed to be a fun and rewarding opportunity. 

There was a time in my second year when I was writing so many articles and pitching to various campus publications, only stressing myself out not hearing back from them. At times, it also hindered my confidence as I thought maybe my articles were not good enough.

I think what many professors and adults don’t reflect in their teachings is that although school can be stressful, it’s supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to learn from your university experiences, not be pressured by them.

With all this being said, there’s no problem with putting yourself out there, going out of your comfort zone, learning about yourself, and acquiring relationships to help further your degree. However, there is no rush to the finish line. Those who push you often forget that it’s okay to not be ready to do certain tasks within your time at university. But when you are ready to contribute, it’s important to recognize your accomplishments. Comparing yourself to others is never a guide to a healthy relationship with yourself and will be the first thing that leads you to the detrimental condition of imposter syndrome.

Kate Jones

Toronto MU '23

Kate Jones is a Her Campus Contributing Writer. Kate is currently studying Journalism at Ryerson University, in Toronto, Ontario. Along with Her Campus, Kate has written for NewWave Magazine and currently produces and hosts her own radio show, Fem Radio at CJRU 1280 AM. In her free time, Kate enjoys exercising, baking (and then eating everything she baked!), and travelling.