It’s safe to assume that I’m not the only one who has been in a new place and felt like I totally didn’t belong or wasn’t qualified to be in. Welcome to the phenomenon called “imposter syndrome.” According to an article from the Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome can be understood as, “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” In other words, this feeling comes when a person has earned their way into a new position, but believes that everyone around them is smarter, better, more qualified, and actually deserves to be there. As the self-doubt creeps further into the mind of one of these ‘imposters,’ they begin feeling like they are a fake; like they don’t truly deserve to be there or are incapable of performing in their new position.
Often times, college is the first time someone experiences imposter syndrome. It can be very tempting to step onto a college campus and feel like everyone around you actually knows what they are doing when in reality, were all kind of figuring it out as we go along. But there’s good reason to feel like everyone else is better or smarter than you when you’re starting college. You’ll meet students who got higher grades in high school, have wealthier families and more expensive clothes, took more AP classes, or just seem more confident and prepared.
Now here’s the part where most will tell you that all those people who seem to have things more together than you are just acting like it and they’re really freaking out as much as you. But I’m here to tell you that sometimes, those who seem smarter, more confident, and under control actually ARE! Of course most are just putting on an act, but there’s so many who are as they appear and that’s okay! It baffles me how often people are encouraged to believe that no one is smarter than them and everyone else feels just as out of place and everyone is on the same level of experience and confidence when that is not how reality is in the slightest.
Let’s talk about comfort zones.
The reason it’s so reassuring when people tell us that everyone feels the same imposter syndrome is because it convinces us that we are actually in our comfort zone. And a comfort zone in the midst of all the chaotic change of entering college is like a security blanket but not a very useful one. The reality is, starting college is far, far away from most people’s comfort zones and requires a lot of self-improvement to manage effectively.
Imposter syndrome is NOT a bad thing to feel. In fact, I’ve given a speech at the University of San Francisco on why imposter syndrome is something students should seek out and embrace. I encourage you to seek out experiences that make you feel like an imposter because it likely means you’re around people who are smarter and more experienced than you. It doesn’t mean you’re not capable of doing well in that environment, but it does mean you’ve got a lot of learning and growing opportunities.