How to Conquer the Imposter Syndrome and Take Ownership of Your Successes

“Am I good enough for this?” 

“Do I even know what I’m doing?” 

“Do I even deserve this?” 

“I feel like a fake.”

If any of these thoughts have crossed your mind—not once, not twice, but maybe multiple times throughout your life—then you’re not alone.

I don’t remember the first time I started having these recurring thoughts, but I know this voice has been there for a while.

This voice in my head was nasty, belittling and often malicious.

Everything I did was judged by this little, yet dangerous voice, telling me I wasn’t good enough, that I had no clue what I was doing and that I didn’t deserve the achievements I earned.

It wasn’t until college when I discovered the official name for this voice: imposter syndrome.

The imposter syndrome occurs when you have chronic thoughts of self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that can overcome any feelings of success, even if you have literal proof of your competence.

Unfortunately, the more successful you are and the more achievements you earn, the more persistent this voice becomes.

Soon you’d be attributing your successes to random strokes of luck or other external factors. Even worse, you’d even start feeling guilty, like you didn’t truly deserve your accomplishments and recognitions.

Throughout my life, I had felt the effects of the imposter syndrome in much smaller doses than I do now.

However, I never really acknowledged it nor even realized it was a serious problem until I started college at the University of Florida.

In high school, I was considered a successful student—maybe even an overachieving one, as my friends would jokingly (but at the same time, not-so-jokingly) say.

This title was backed up by my 4.3 GPA, a class schedule filled with rigorous AP courses, my involvement in four honor societies and being the vice president for two of them and the list goes on.

Was I a bit of an overachiever? Maybe, but I felt like I had a handle on everything, and I did. I managed to do everything I wanted and more.

It was October of my senior year in high school when I was going through the highly stressful process of filling out my college applications.

For me, the University of Florida was my top choice. It was considered to be the best university in the state of Florida and naturally, who didn’t want to attend a top university?

But of course, if you wanted to be selected by such a prestigious and selective university, you had to be the best and most competitive applicant—or so I thought.

So, I poured everything I had into that application — writing and rewriting my admissions essay, gathering multiple friends to review my essay, and carefully describing my high school involvements to make it appealing to UF’s admissions officers — the list goes on.

Throughout the application process, the imposter syndrome within me first became prominent.

I had read somewhere that UF was known to have less than a 45-50% acceptance rate.

With this nagging statistic in the back of my head, I was beginning to doubt my competence. Was my 30 a good enough ACT score? Was I involved enough? I only ran cross country for two years, so is that okay? Is my essay too cliché? Are all of my achievements enough for me to get in?

These kinds of thoughts constantly raced through my mind once they started. I, once confident in my capabilities, was now on the brink of anxiety and self-doubt — and it certainly did not get better when it was finally the day of college decisions.

UF’s decisions were supposed to be released at 6 p.m., and let me tell you, 6 p.m. had never felt so long to arrive.

Throughout the day, I attempted to distract myself from the building anxiety within me but by the time 5:30 rolled around, I was practically shaking from nervousness.

My best friend, who was also anticipating her decision from UF as well, was on FaceTime with me so that we could support each other during the stressful ordeal.

Naturally, I had the admissions portal pulled up a whole hour prior to the release and had been refreshing the page over and over as 6:00 approached closer and closer. 5:45. Click. 5:50. Click. 5:55 Click. 6:00. A shaky intake of breath. 

Click — Status Update: An update to your application was just posted.

This was it. The culmination of all my four years of hard work was about to be revealed with a single “Congratulations” or a “We regret to inform you…” With shaking hands and a pounding heart, I clicked “View Update.”

“Congratulations on your admission to the University of Florida for the Fall 2019 term.”

I did it. I actually did it, I got into UF, my top choice school! I was absolutely elated for the next several weeks at the prospect of officially becoming a Florida Gator.

Then before I knew it, I graduated high school Summa Cum Laude, summer came and was gone as fast as it had started…and then it was officially the start of my freshman year at college.

It didn’t hit me until a few weeks into my first semester that I was surrounded by people who were equally as intelligent as me, if not more so, and I started feeling insecure about my capabilities.

Being at a prestigious and selective school such as UF made it easy to compare myself to everyone around me.

Fun fact: UF’s acceptance rate for the class of 2023 was 34.1%...that’s absolutely insane.

To me, that meant most people who got accepted into the university had to be really well-rounded, smart and overachieving — similar to what I thought I was.

Sometimes it seemed like the students I spoke to were involved in so many clubs and extracurriculars while they were simultaneously thriving in their classes.

Meanwhile, as the semester progressed, I was constantly on the edge of failing chemistry and I was struggling to even get a C.

At this time, the imposter syndrome reared its ugly little head. I began to wonder why I was even accepted into UF in the first place.

I asked myself, “If they knew who I really was, would they still have accepted me?”

It took a long time for me to realize that other people’s accomplishments have no bearing on my worth or talent.

In reality, most of us are still trying to adjust to college life and are constantly figuring things out along the way.

None of us are perfect with what we do, not even that one freshman student who’s already involved in three organizations, is passing all their classes, has a research position for pre-med and has vibrant social life—all within the first one or two months of college.

Not even the most accomplished among us has a solid grip on life. It will take time and trust in ourselves to eventually believe that yes, we do belong here, and we were accepted here for a reason.

There are multiple factors that play into our beliefs about our capabilities.

Family expectations, our own expectations, rigorous higher-level coursework, perfectionism, depression and anxiety are all confounding factors that can possibly contribute to these feelings of not being good enough.

So, what can we do about it? First, name and accept the feeling. It may not be fun to experience, but it can be powerful—even life-changing—to recognize and accept these feelings, deal with them and know that they will pass.

The more you do this, the easier it’ll get.

You can also talk about it to someone who understands your journey.

You’d be surprised as to how many people have this feeling — it’s a greater number than you may have thought.

One day, when I was having a class discussion in my First Year Florida class about what we were struggling with, multiple people spoke up about how they went from straight-A students who had perfect GPAs in high school to college students struggling to even get by in their classes.

Imagine my shock (and slight relief, not going to lie) when I heard their confessions. I suddenly didn’t feel alone for the first time.

Next, start adapting to a growth mindset. You will be stuck in your current position forever if you aren’t willing to expand beyond what you already know.

Rather than believing that your results and your apparent lack of achievements define you, focus on the learning process and use those lessons to grow as a person.

Embrace the challenge, be open to feedback from others and understand that just because it’s hard on you now doesn’t mean it will always be.

After that, welcome your failures. As absurd as that sounds, your failures do not define you.

Let go of that unrealistic goal of being perfect or the best at everything.

We are human and humans are definitely not the most perfect creatures.

Allow yourself to make mistakes or show signs of weakness.

If you don’t know how to do a certain chemistry problem and you get it wrong, try again. If you fail a second time, try again. Try, try, try. This is where the learning happens.

Lastly, identify your idols and those who you look up to for inspiration. What do you with them? Humanize them.

It’s time to stop putting these people on a pedestal and realize that none of us are perfect — even Beyoncé (oh, who am I kidding. Beyoncé’s an actual goddess).

People are unique individuals who have their own strengths and weaknesses; focusing on the apparent perfection of others can really cause us to belittle our gifts and exaggerate our shortcomings.

I won’t lie, these are all easier said than done. However, with enough patience, practice, and support, we will eventually attain our goal and come to realize that we are more than enough for anything in this world.

If you need someone to talk to or need any support, please contact the Counseling and Wellness Center at (352) 392-1575.