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How to recognize imposter syndrome as a student

By Samantha Amundarain, November 1 2021—

Have you ever felt that someone may finally catch you in the act of faking it on your way to making it? Or that if you ask for help, someone will laugh? Or that despite almost every professor saying there’s no dumb question, you know yours will come off as too elementary? 

Just so you know, you’re one among many. Imposter syndrome is a term used to describe the constant feeling of doubt or believing that you are not as capable as you actually are. Since the ’70s, this phenomenon has been studied by Drs. Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance. It is a common struggle for many, many people, and the cause of imposter syndrome is still attributed to many factors and not solely one cause. Some of the reasons include placing a lot of value on academic performance and achievements or entering a new role that may make you feel like you don’t belong. These aren’t the only reasons but some of the more common ones. 

Everyone feels imposter syndrome differently. Generally, it’s split up into five different categories, each one with its struggles. 

The Perfectionist:

This is usually a person that is never satisfied with their achievements. Despite the great work they’ve done, this individual fixates on mistakes, bringing more anxiety upon themselves than necessary. 

The Superhero: 

While pushing yourself might be encouraged in school, overworking yourself to work as hard as possible in school may cause you to burn out a lot faster. This archetype works a lot harder to compensate for the inferiority they feel.

The Expert: 

This individual always wants to know more, with the claim that they don’t have enough knowledge and underrate all that they know. 

The Natural Genius: 

This archetype could also be known as the “Burnout Gifted Kid.” This person sets incredibly lofty goals and is devastated when they aren’t achieved on the first try.  

The Soloist: 

They prefer to work alone, maybe out of fear of disappointing others. Their self-worth stems from their productivity and they might reject all kinds of assistance because it might be perceived as a sign of weakness. 

Photo courtesy Abdulrahman Abu Shaer // Pexels

While you don’t need to fit into one of the archetypes to say you have experienced imposter syndrome, they may help you realize that imposter syndrome can look different from person to person. 

Now that you’ve identified and related to this, it’s important to realize that this is a completely normal experience, especially for students. The name syndrome is quite misleading — it would be more appropriate to call it the imposter experience. It’s something that can affect your day-to-day life but there are ways to cope and work around it. 

For starters, being open to talking about your experiences to others might make you both feel better. In confirming that neither is alone in this experience, you know that others can understand the struggle of having a constant inner critic. Being open and realizing that constructive criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing may change how you talk to yourself. 

Another strategy that may help is realistically looking back on your achievements. Every little thing that you think isn’t a big deal is a bigger deal than you think. You worked hard and deserve the credit.

Really question your thoughts, especially the mean ones. Ask yourself “Does this thought help or hinder me?” Rephrasing your thoughts is a small act of self-compassion that can build up to some real progress in terms of how kind you are to yourself. Acknowledge how you feel, realize that not all your thoughts are true and push on.

One of the most important things to consider when dealing with imposter syndrome is comparison. Comparing yourself to fellow peers is pressuring yourself to live up to the standards of someone else’s life— and for what? Realizing that you may have different strengths is a small step but that’s how everything starts. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is to yourself a week, a month, or even a year ago. 

These tips may not radically change your life overnight but remember that everything in almost every circumstance is about perspective. Being kind to yourself is not a luxury, it is a fundamental need for success. Reframe your thoughts and don’t be afraid to talk to your friends, as they probably have had a similar experience. After a little bit at a time, you’ll find yourself working hard, trying not to prove yourself to anyone because you know you can do a good job. If you ever need to remember how far you’ve come, think of what your younger self would think of you. Work to make that kid proud and know that you’ve always belonged in any space you’ve been in, simply by being true to yourself. That’s never something to be insecure about.

Imposter syndrome happens to all of us at some point and the best way to work around it is to realize you’re not alone. Talk to friends, family, mentors, anyone that you admire and you’ll see that feeling like a fraud is not as uncommon as you may think. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to take care of yourself, which means allowing yourself to be proud of your achievements and successes and keep working for the ones that are still to come. 

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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