When I came to college, I fell victim to laying out a perfect future at my new university. I would have 100 friends, I would hit the gym every day, and classes wouldn’t be hard for me because acing classes in college would be easy – right? When I look back on my goals for myself, I kind of laugh because they are so unrealistic. But it hurts all the same when you set the goals and don’t achieve them. Adjusting to college is hard enough: you don’t need the weight of impossible goals pressing down on you too.
Then again, hindsight is 20/20. When I arrived at college and things weren’t going according to my plans, it was so easy to fall into the “everybody is doing it better than I am” trap. This is called imposter syndrome, or the feeling of self-doubt that persists despite your experiences and accomplishments. My friend once told me, “someone is going to find out I have no idea what I’m doing”, and that is the most clear way I can describe it.
Imposter syndrome typically affects high-achieving individuals, although it can affect anyone, regardless of their job or socioeconomic status. Some of the symptoms listed are a sense of being a fraud, fear of being discovered, and difficulty of internalizing their success.
Imposter syndrome tends to hit hardest in new environments where expectations are high from the beginning. Beginning a college course-load and making new friends all at once is the perfect storm to trigger it. Underrepresented groups are most vulnerable to imposter syndrome because they often feel as if they have the most to prove, meaning women are at particular risk for developing imposter syndrome, especially in typically male-dominated fields.
Since college students are so susceptible, how can we help ourselves? The first thing to do is to recognize how common it is. According to Psychology Today, 25-30% of may suffer from imposter syndrome, meaning you are not alone. The second method is to remind yourself of how capable you are. People with imposter syndrome feel as if they don’t belong or will be outpaced in their competitive environment. Making a list of your accomplishments or writing down the details of something you did that made you proud can make a big difference in remembering your own abilities.
The final and most important thing to do is to treat your imposter syndrome like an a fire alarm. Sometimes when it goes off, it is a very serious, dangerous situation. The best thing to do in these cases is to take some of the pressure off yourself to get your mind out of the “danger zone”. Relaxing activities like going for a walk or calling a loved one can ease your thoughts. However, sometimes fire alarms go off when it is just a drill, and nothing bad is happening at all. Try and recognize the difference between thoughts that are stemming from anxiety and thoughts that pop up because your brain is familiar with jumping to the worst-case scenario conclusions.
Whenever imposter syndrome thoughts occur, remind yourself they are just thoughts, and you do not have to listen to them. Thoughts only have as much power as you give them. With that said, there’s rarely a bad time to close your laptop, put down your homework, and do something to take your mind away from the pressures. Giving yourself a break every now and then is one of the best things to do for relieving yourself of imposter syndrome.