Impostor Syndrome: The Illusion of Perpetual Mediocrity
Imagine a swarm of protestors holding up signs proclaiming, “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE.” No matter what you accomplish, a self-inflicted doubt and the insatiable need to redefine success lurk closely behind.
This is Impostor Syndrome— the internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
At the beginning of my freshman year I truly believed that in order to be accepted I needed to achieve, and it became a self-perpetuating cycle of high expectations followed by inevitable disappointment. Spending time on anything non-academic made me feel guilty. If I socialized, it was at a networking event. If I read, it was a finance book. I attended 20 different club meetings within a span of 13 days. I rarely did anything that didn’t have a direct return on investment in my productivity. I desperately craved validation, but I didn’t know who I was seeking it from, and the first two months of college passed in a blur, leaving me utterly miserable.
Whenever you are in a group, there are stereotypes about competence and what the pillar of accomplishment appears to be. Coming from a diverse high school, I experienced culture shock being surrounded by majority white classmates in my college business classes and expressing interest in STEM activities that were noticeably male-dominated. Not many people looked or sounded like me, and I didn’t really feel like I belonged. Instead, my marginalized identity made me feel like a trespasser in a homogeneous field that implicitly belonged to others.
I confessed my internal conflict to a few trusted upperclassmen friends. Surprisingly, they shared similar experiences, and reassured me that what I was going through was completely normal. Discovering that I was not alone allowed me to find solace in the struggle and they mentored me to transform my Impostor Syndrome from an obstacle into a motivator.
For me, my solution is to stay concrete in my ambitions. Impostor Syndrome feeds off vague generalities: “I’m not smart/pretty/successful enough.” What’s enough? Instead of wallowing in self-pity, reframing my goals more specifically to “I want to secure a summer internship at a tech company” gives me a tangible objective to aim for. Simultaneously, I know that my accomplishments do not define me.
As the end of my freshman year wrapped up, I won’t lie – I still felt out of place here. As I crammed for my exams, I sometimes heard the giggles of girls coming back from a party and I couldn’t help but wonder what college experiences I may have missed out on. The truth is, while watching others succeed, sometimes we lose who we are in an effort to emulate others. We are constantly fed this whole notion of “finding yourself” in college. But I beg to differ.
Our identities aren’t some predestined fabrications presented to us on a silver platter—we must learn to create ourselves.