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Impostor Syndrome

Andriana writes about identifying and addressing impostor syndrome in college!

Andriana writes about identifying and addressing impostor syndrome in college!

Hi everyone!

We’ve had some lovely spring weather here in Richmond the past few days! Everything is green, flowers are blooming, and the air smells like lilacs. A beautiful place to spend the term.

Richmond Flowers

Speaking of which, we are rapidly approaching midterms, which are only a step away from finals, which means the end of sophomore year is upon me! (Kind of a big leap, I know, but the terms really do fly by here at Carleton.) As I approach the point at which I will graduate from a Newbie to an Elder—there’s no in-between—I feel like I should practice sharing my newfound wisdom.

This week, I want to talk about impostor syndrome. You might have heard of it, you might have experienced it, or you might know nothing about it. But I think it’s a good idea to be aware of impostor syndrome, especially before attending college, where it might be especially pervasive.

What is impostor syndrome?

In the simplest terms, impostor syndrome is the feeling of not being good enough, of not belonging. It might come in environments of high achievement, especially where success is visible and/or expected. In these situations, it is easy to feel like, in a sea of high performers, you simply can’t measure up. Common questions in the minds of those grappling with impostor syndrome might be:

  • Why am I here?
  • Should I be here?
  • Do I really belong here?
  • Can I do well here?
  • What do I have to contribute?

These questions can be distressing! They prey on insecurity and invite feelings of inadequacy. But they are common, and they can be quieted.

What does impostor syndrome look like?

When I came to Carleton, I felt the need to prove myself, or really to prove my academic worth. In classes, I was constantly blown away by the comments that other students were making and the depth of discussion held on a daily basis. It seemed nearly impossible to operate at the same level as my peers, to even make valuable contributions.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I received a B- on my first paper at Carleton. I realize now that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Bs in college—they are an achievement! But at the time, I worried that I was horribly behind my classmates. I questioned whether I really understood the material, whether I could keep up with my peers, whether I knew enough to participate.

At Carleton, students rarely discuss grades with anyone beyond their close friends. This is really nice—it reinforces Carleton’s academic environment as collaborative rather than competitive. When I was a first term freshman, however, I felt a little lost. I didn’t want to compete, but compare: Am I the only one struggling?

How to deal with impostor syndrome

After getting the B-, I went to office hours to discuss the paper. While talking to the professor, I decided to ask how he felt I was doing in the class. I didn’t have a strong grasp on expectations at Carleton; but professors, advisers, and older students do. So ask them! Seek advice. Talk about the issues concerning you. Don’t feel the need to keep quiet lest you be seen as weak or less than.

It turned out that asking the question was extremely beneficial. The professor told me that he thought I was doing well in the class, and that he wasn’t worried about my academic performance. This was such a relief to hear, and it made me feel a lot better. In fact, it even gave me the confidence I needed to be more secure in my participation throughout the rest of the term.

Seeking perspective

Stop and ask yourself: So what if you’re here by mistake? So what if you don’t belong here?

These questions might sound harsh, but I think they are productive ones to consider. Realistically, if you were here by mistake (you’re not), if you didn’t belong here (you do), what’s the worse that would happen? You’d drop out? Get expelled? Become a hermit and live under a rock? No! You have no option other than to do your best. (And, psst, this is what you should be doing anyway!)

Carleton has a wonderful support system. Professors are so accessible and willing to help, as are advisers and other students. Attend office hours, schedule an appointment, or take the time to meet up with a friend. Sometimes, all you need is a little reassurance to know that you’re on the right track.

Or maybe you feel like you could use some extra help to allow you to become confident in your mastery of the material. Visit the Academic Support Center! If you’ve never done research before and want some advice before getting started on that first paper, visit the library staff! There are so many resources that exist to help you succeed. Use them!

Parting thoughts

If you’re feeling a certain way, chances are that others are feeling that way, too. This might not help much to hear, but just remind yourself that your classmates probably have the same doubts as you. And one day, when you’re an old college senior with four years under your belt, a wee freshman will likely listen to you wax poetic about last night’s reading and think: Gee, I wish I could do that.

Andriana is a sophomore at Carleton, where she is earning a major in English and a minor in Cross-Cultural Studies. Although she is spending the year at home in Richmond, VA, Andriana is already excited to return to Carleton in the fall. When she isn’t busy studying, Andriana can be found binge-reading, playing music, or watching a favorite movie or show for the umpteenth time. Meet the other bloggers!