OPINION: ‘Did I peak in high school?’ Let’s talk about impostor syndrome

Drawing of an upset girl surrounded by peaceful students
(Mariana Duran • The Student Life)

The confidence following my college acceptance and prior to my first step on campus was a fugitive feeling. It left me high and dry as soon as I settled in, the rosy image of college suddenly a stark reality. The ease of being great at something in high school was trumped by the many students who matched or exceeded my strengths in college. For the first time, I had to stop and ask myself: Do I deserve to be at this college and among these students?

Self-doubt, though an intangible part of human nature, sits so heavy in our hearts and minds. What’s worse is that we can’t shove that doubt under the mattress and call it a day. It’s a feeling that sticks, try as we might to get it off.

There are moments where I feel as if I’m a fraud. Cue my acquaintance with impostor syndrome, defined as “the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications.” We’ve all been there, whether it’s the class of peers who seem to know all the answers that you don’t, the insecurity of being recruited for factors other than academics or being sidelined in competitive atmospheres.

The advertisement of success on college campuses suggests that everyone is succeeding in some way or another. One would think that being surrounded by achievement would encourage motivation, but it seems to have the opposite effect. We’re under the impression that universally, accomplishments far exceed setbacks, further emphasizing our inadequacies. On top of this, we’re overwhelmed by our own papers, projects, club activities and sports commitments. It’s easy to feel as if our concept of a full plate doesn’t amount to someone else’s. Burdened by impostor syndrome, we feel as if we are not meeting some predetermined standard.

It is important to note that impostor syndrome breeds serious mental health consequences. Impostor syndrome and its roots in self-doubt can cause a decline in job performance and an increase in burnout. There’s also a connection between impostor syndrome and anxiety and depression. From another perspective, impostor syndrome can affect how you interact — or don’t — with the people in your life, causing you to be withdrawn and reticent.

Frankly, impostor syndrome is awful, and as students we should arm ourselves with the tools necessary to counter its effects. One solution is to consult with our innermost fears and turn them around. Something that could help is keeping little notes around your workspace. I myself write encouraging affirmations on my whiteboard and take a peek every once in a while to keep my spirits up. 

Another option is to engage in open conversation with the people around you, particularly individuals who have witnessed your academic and personal growth and can attest to your worthiness. Having people to bring out the best in you, to inspire self-assurance, can bring you out of a slump of self-doubt.

Another solution that alleviates the anxiety brought on by impostor syndrome is mapping out your life so far — the highs and lows, the obstacles you overcame and the resulting victories. Everyone is here for a reason, and it can help to write and visualize the journey that brought you to where you are. 

At the end of the day, we will continue to question the spaces we occupy and whether or not we deserve to occupy them. But you’re wanted for every part of you, even the parts you deem insignificant. At the heart of it all, who you are beneath the layers of scores and extracurriculars and resumes is the most worthy version of yourself. It’s the version that deserves to be here, at this college, among your peers. 

Shay Suresh CM ’24 is from San Jose, California. She loves literary fiction, folk-rock music and making Pinterest boards.


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