Last Updated: Mar 9, 2016
Do you worry that you don’t belong on your college campus? Are you convinced that you somehow tricked the admission committee into admitting you or that they made a mistake? Do you assume all of your classmates are smarter and more accomplished than you? Do you feel like a fake? These are all classic symptoms of “imposter syndrome,” a common affliction among college students. Long story short, you do belong on your campus, because admission counselors don’t let people in all willy-nilly (technical term). But if you’re struggling with these feelings, keep reading.
We all wear masks. Whether those masks are physical, social, or intellectual, they help us live our lives a little more smoothly. Really, it’s a survival technique: fake it till you make it. But sometimes, the guilt of wearing those masks (and the fear of having them torn off) is not so easy to endure. You might feel like a fraud, an impostor, especially after you arrive on campus and find yourself surrounded by seemingly brilliant classmates. But there’s nothing wrong with you—you’ve just got “impostor syndrome.” So don’t worry, because there are definitely ways to overcome it!
What exactly is impostor syndrome?
Some synonyms for “impostor” include pretender, hoaxer, trickster, sham, and phony… Pretty awful, right? Impostor syndrome is when someone feels like a pretender, hoaxer, trickster, sham, or phony but is actually far from being one. In fact, the Caltech Counseling Center defines the impostor syndrome as “feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true.” The syndrome is prevalent among high-achieving people, who, despite their obvious success, believe they don’t deserve the honors they have earned.
There are three types of self-perceptions associated with the syndrome:
- “I deceived others into believing that I am competent.” Ironically, this uneasy sensation emerges only after achieving great distinctions and merits. People feel as if they don’t deserve the praises, and they are hindered by the guilt and fear that they might disappoint others later.
- “I was just lucky.” People who feel this way refuse to acknowledge their competence. They attribute their success to luck. They see their achievements as a one-time event that happened solely due to chance.
- “Oh, it’s not a big deal—it was easy.” This tendency to discount success reflects on people’s discomfort with receiving compliments. Though they give themselves some credit, they downplay the significance of their accomplishments, waving them away as nothing important.
Sufferers of imposter syndrome typically experience a combination of these perceptions, each to varying degrees. Most people can identify with at least one of the statements above, but the persistency and frequency of those thoughts determine whether one is severely afflicted by the impostor syndrome.
You are not alone
A whopping 70% of people admit to feeling like an impostor at some point in their lives, but a certain type of people are more prone to suffering from impostor insecurities: college students. Even the brightest and the most talented students might believe they don’t belong at their prestigious educational institutions, that the admission officers made a mistake in accepting them. What’s interesting is that most of the time, those students are actually the stars of their classes—they are just afraid of falling down to earth.
Of course, imposter syndrome doesn’t just affect college students. Widely acclaimed writer Maya Angelou once admitted, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” Award-winning actress Kate Winslet confessed, “Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.” Even Emma Watson—a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Ivy League university graduate, Burberry model, and beloved Hermione in Harry Potter—told Vogue magazine, “When I receive recognition for my acting, I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an imposter.”
If you are suffering from the impostor syndrome, you are not alone. The fear of being found out as “not smart or talented enough” is as irrational and preposterous as, say, Emma Watson thinking she’s an amateur. But it’s just as real.
Ways to overcome impostor syndrome
Change your mindset. No one is perfect, and it’s okay to mess up every once in a while. Imperfections and mistakes do not mean you are a fraud or that you don’t belong where you are. So if you ever slip and fall, get back up on feet and learn from your mistakes.
Acknowledge yourself. Once you recognize your own talents and abilities, you open your eyes to countless opportunities that you previously haven’t considered. Be ambitious, form new dreams, and strive to attain those goals! When you achieve success, pat yourself on the back!
Keep a list of compliments. Find an empty glass jar, and whenever you receive compliments, write them down on a small piece of paper and save them in your jar. Watch your jar slowly get filled up with all the little and big praises you hear each day. Then, when you need some encouragements to overcome your impostor feelings, gently pull one of the notes in your jar, and read it aloud. Remind yourself that you are worthy of compliments.
Talk to someone you trust. And remember that 70% of people have felt like an impostor in their lives. Whomever you choose to talk to, chances are good that they have experienced similar thoughts and feelings as you. Ask for advice on how to fight imposter syndrome, or if they are struggling with it too, support each other. They understand what you are going through, and that in itself can provide comfort and the strength to surmount challenges.
Express your feelings. As much as you may know, logically, that you are not an impostor, it can be hard to prevent your heart from feeling that way. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to acknowledge those feelings. But don’t keep them caged inside you. Get them off your chest by writing them down or even saying them out loud. Express your feelings. Then let them go.
Realize that faking can work. Who said faking is always bad? Musicians, athletes, artists, and even students learn by faking. After all, “fake it till you make it” is an old adage for a reason. Can’t nail the rhythm but you have a concert in a day? Fake it. Can’t hit the ball hard enough? Fake it. Can’t draw a perfect circle? Fake it. Eventually, you will pick up the skills, because faking is a form of practice.
You are you. No matter how what you feel, you are not a fake. And the masks you wear do not make you a fraud.