Feeling Like an Imposter? You’re Not Alone. Here’s What to Do.

Imposter syndrome can be defined as an “internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be” (Cuncic, 2020). As university students, as people who are surviving a pandemic, and as people who likely engage with social media, we have all experienced the feeling of not only not belonging, but being wildly out of our realm of knowledge and comfort as well. We are constantly confronted by the successes of our peers, messages about being incredibly productive in spite of the current global health crisis, and social media campaigns which speak about what it means to be a “boss b****”. These messages and experiences often confirm our preexisting ideas surrounding our supposed inadequacy, only making the problem worse. After speaking to several fellow students over the course of my degree, I know I am not the only one who feels this way from time to time. And that’s alright. As students--especially Zoom University students--feelings of uncertainty are common. However, it is incredibly important to not allow these feelings to get out of hand. 

On my first day of university, I felt like the most unintelligent person in the room. After sitting through two lectures, I came home to my apartment, sat down on my couch, and asked myself not only what the heck I had gotten myself into, but how the heck I had gotten myself into it as well. While I feel this less and less about myself three years later, feelings of being a fraud and simpleton creep into my life every now and again. Even after making myself proud time and time again, that little voice in the back of my head creeps up every now and then to remind me not only of my status as an ‘imposter’, but to keep me awake at night debating whether I truly know anything about the degree I have dedicated myself to for the last three years. It is at this point that imposter syndrome becomes unhealthy: it no longer exists to push me to do my best and to study with fervour, but to tear apart my sense of self and confidence. 

When I find myself overwhelmed with imposter system, I first take a minute to hear myself out, and try to understand why I am feeling this way. Did I recently receive a grade I am unhappy with? Have I been taking proper care of myself and my mental health? If I can come to the bottom of why I am feeling the way I am, I’ll do what I can to address it: review an assignment and reflect, go to office hours, eat lunch, go for a walk, or just take a second away from my desk. If, for whatever reason, I can’t get to the root of my feelings, I employ a multitude of other strategies. Some days, this strategy is to get out a pad of paper and write down some of my accomplishments (no matter how small) to remind myself that I am a competent individual capable of success, and that I do deserve to be in the positions that I am in, such as attending University. Other days, I’ll chat with my partner, sister, or a friend about how I’m feeling, not for their vindication or validation, but rather just to get it off my mind.  Others still, I remind myself that imposter system is very often connected to a need for perfectionism in not only my daily life, but in my academic and professional life as well. The biggest thing that I note about perfectionism is that it is a social construct: it doesn’t truly exist, and therefore doesn’t truly serve me. By acknowledging this, I am not eliminating my perfectionist tendencies, but rather acknowledging that perfect or not, I am worthy, and certainly not an imbecile or  imposter. 

If you find yourself relating to any of the experiences that I’ve shared above, or struggle with not feeling adequate and as though you belong, I hope that the strategies and messages I’ve described above can assist you in overcoming imposter system. If you ever feel as though your feelings are getting out of hand, are negatively impacting your ability to succeed at school or work, or just need someone to talk to, please do consider reaching out for mental health support, be it to a friend or family member, or to campus/professional services. Services include:

 

References:

Cuncic, Arlin. What Is Imposter Syndrome? VeryWell Mind, May 1, 2020, https://www.verywellmind.com/imposter-syndrome-and-social-anxiety-disorder-415646.