Imposter Syndrome

One of the side effects of dealing with personal mental health is that sometimes people fall into the trap of thinking that they are the only ones suffering from their respective condition, and that it’s impossible to ask for help. The self-inflicted pressure people feel to keep quiet about whatever they may be struggling with is one of the reasons that “coming out” about mental health issues is so stigmatized and laden with labels of “problematic” and “overly-sensitive.”

I learned a little bit about imposter syndrome last quarter when I went into my major advisor’s office to figure out the process for doing a late drop. I told him how I was struggling with medical issues and the material in a computer science class which was making me feel completely incompetent both as an adult and a student. He asked if I had ever heard about imposter syndrome and explained (in my circumstance) that it was the feeling that everyone around me was succeeding at adulting, taking care of themselves, and passing the class I was flailing and failing in, which was giving me the overwhelming feeling of incompetency.

After watching a TED Talk on imposter syndrome (because what else do you need in life to become an expert on something?), I got a little deeper into imposter syndrome and just how truly universal it is. 

To summarize the essence of the video, imposter syndrome (also called imposter phenomenon or imposter experience) is the feeling that you do not deserve the accomplishments you achieve, whether it be good grades, a job, an award, or some prestigious opportunity. This feeling is not solely restricted to highly skilled individuals, and is not directly connected to anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem.

Even if you haven’t heard of this condition, it’s far more universal than you might expect. Undergraduate and graduate students are cited to have experienced this feeling quite often during their college careers, as completing higher education is considered a great accomplishment. Students may feel, even with success in their major, they do not deserve their spot at university. 

I think that college students, knowingly or unknowingly, struggle with this every day. Everywhere you look, you may only see or know people that look like they have their lives fully together. They get good grades, they’re taking on multiple majors or minors, they’re involved in multiple extracurriculars, they have a great job or internship.

It’s so easy for our minds to spiral into a worst-case scenario, making it easy to compare ourselves to others, but it’s important to take a step back and recognize our own accomplishments from time to time. Did you ace a midterm that you studied for five days for last week? Be proud of yourself and your hard work! Did you go to your advisor and get another quarter or year of school figured out? Enjoy that feeling of security! I guarantee that you do more than you think you do.

That being said, it’s important to TALK if you’re having feelings of imposter syndrome. You don’t even have to name it explicitly, but simply expressing fears of inadequacy to friends, teachers, colleagues, bosses, and others can help lessen the stigma we place on ourselves of never being good enough.

To learn more about imposter syndrome and how to combat it, here’s some info from TED.