Imposter syndrome

How To Fight Imposter Syndrome as an Achieving College Student

It had been months since I sent in my application to be an intern at one of the largest organizations for LGBTQ+ equality in the country. I had done internships before, but none like this one. I would be offered a decently sized stipend, working alongside a great and fast-paced group of changemakers, and serving as the only social media and digital marketing intern. To say the least, this was one of the biggest opportunities of my career. I had waded through multiple written responses and multiple interviews and finally, it was time to know whether I had been accepted. In my crowded undergraduate library, surrounded by a couple of close friends, I opened the letter. “Congratulations, we are pleased to offer you the social media & digital marketing internship for spring 2022.” Amidst the cheering from friends and the congrats from others, it wasn’t joy that I felt but rather worry. I had made it this far off of what seemed like wit’s end and long nights of interview prep, and while I was excited, in the back of my head all I could think was, “can I really do this?” 

I, like many achieving college students, have had moments of celebration and accomplishment snuffed out by feelings of not being good when imposter syndrome set in. Defined by Psychology Today “People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them.” According to a 2019 study, conducted by Brigham Young University, 20% percent of college students experience imposter syndrome at some point in time. 

While affecting the general body of college students, imposter syndrome takes a particular effect on those coming from marginalized backgrounds, such as a diverse racial group or gender identity. Often the oppression, double standard, and discrimination that comes from being a woman, LGBTQ+, a person of color, lower economic status, and more, compound with the high pressures of college and imposter syndrome. This experience can make it hard to truly believe one has earned their position or accomplishments and has not simply lucked in and slipped through the cracks. Changing this mindset doesn’t start with recognizing accomplishments as your own, but rather changing the view of yourself. 

While facing imposter syndrome it is important to understand that while it might feel like you’ve lucked into your new role as editor-in-chief of your college paper, or slipped through the cracks into your current fellowship, you have earned every position and are deserving of every room you step into. Understanding that you are capable, hardworking, excellent at what you do, and worthy of praise and opportunity, is necessary to overcoming imposter syndrome. Remember to not mistake room for growth and improvement as a lack of skill and talent. Beyond understanding your value and viewing yourself as an asset to a team, it is important to look back at your previous hard work to conceptualize how you’ve made it to your current position. 

Imposter syndrome convinces you that you’re a fraud, that you’ve stumbled into your current achievements, so it is important to recognize that you are hardworking and the current moment was not built last night. Your achievements are made out of your time doing the work. Those many sleepless nights where you chose to put in extra time studying and applying for internships. When you, instead of going out, chose to take some extra time to get ahead on work that needed to be done for your job. Your current reality is made up of all of your previous successes and failures. You’ve dealt with yeses and you’ve dealt with noes; it is recognizing these past failures that help to understand your future.

Imposter syndrome makes it easy to believe that your win came out of thin air – or by some chance of luck – but really, this win was born out of not only your previous success but also failings. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably heard a lot more no’s than yeses, and it is those noes that have paved the way for this success. Embracing the act of failing and truly appreciating those opportunities that didn’t work out, helps to fight imposter syndrome because it allows you to live in that moment knowing you’ve worked hard for the yes you’ve received. This, paired with optimism, serves as a final tool to fight off imposter syndrome. 

Optimism is believing that good things will happen when you show up and do the work. It is important to remain optimistic in those “in-between” times of waiting for internship callbacks or when you’re finally in your field of choice. Optimism and believing good things are coming your way helps to know when reaching those moments of celebration this is what you have been preparing for. Embracing this can-do attitude allows you to combat the thought of failing with the opposing reality of winning. Imposter syndrome exists in pessimism, or the thought of everything going wrong, so in leaning into optimistic thinking one can easily dismiss notions of being a fraud and fake with being fully capable and things working. 

If we are honest, everyone at some point feels like an imposter even after using these tools. Learning to fight imposter syndrome successfully is not trying to completely eradicate the human emotion of fear and failure, but rather showing up for one’s self in those moments with a kind word, a gentle nudge in the right direction, and believing you are worthy to be exactly where you are. So, embrace the side of you that knows you can do it. Embrace the side of you that has failed time and time again. Lean into your can-do attitude and understand that while you might not be an expert in your field, you’ve gained enough knowledge to not only do the job but to be a successful high achieving student. 

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