Believe it or not, imposter syndrome almost made me not write this article.
As I prepare to graduate in May and enter the workforce (I hope), I’ve started to think a lot about my college experience — the good and the just okay. In my past four years at Whittier, I have dropped and failed multiple classes and have been saved by way too many extensions. Before I was aware of what the imposter syndrome was, I just thought I was straight trippin’. I felt like there was something wrong with me. There were assignments that I just could not do and meetings I could not attend no matter how simple they were — sometimes for no apparent reason. Other times, it seemed to be because of what I interpreted as seasonal depression and a lack of confidence.
After some soul searching, I accepted the fact that I was and still am anxious when it comes to my accomplishments and school work. I doubted myself and still do. I put too much value on assignments for no reason. I have a fear that my professors, bosses, and co-workers will think I’m stupid. These characteristics, I discovered, encompass imposter syndrome for me in a nutshell.
Though the trusty ol’ Webster’s Dictionary has yet to define the term, some of the most significant discourse on the imposter syndrome in the past few decades — including “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention,” written by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes — have helped us better understand the condition. The syndrome, according to Clance and Imes, is most “prevalent and intense among a select sample in high achieving women.” Though the term “high achieving” is difficult to measure, it’s no secret that our conceptions of ourselves, family, work, and just about every other part of our lives, is informed by the patriarchy. Men (primarily of the white variety) have made women doubt themselves since the beginning of Western civilization, and, in this way, the female experience hasn’t allowed much room for failure.
Depending on the person, imposter syndrome can come in all shapes. As someone who is a part of the Whittier Scholars Program, a program where you get to create your own major, I am extremely vulnerable to the imposter syndrome — and I don’t think the Scholars Program considers this enough. Majoring in Postcolonial Studies — a path of study only seen in a handful of graduate programs across Europe and Great Britain, or as a concentration at big universities like Cornell — there is a lot of pressure to create a major that encompasses the subject as a whole with the classes that our College has. My imposter syndrome forces me to ask questions like: who am I to be creating my own major? Is that pretentious? Who am I to be challenging the imperial systems of our society, or the dominant disciplines that have characterized what we know to be as culture, society, history, and truth? What will employers in my field and other fields think of my major when they hear that I created it myself? Will it make them scoff or smile? As a Xicana in America, the imposter experience is even more real! I often think, who the h—l is going to listen to me? For centuries, the majority have attempted to silence the voices of minorities and people of indigenous descent. Why would they listen now?
Imposter syndrome is a little more than a confidence issue. Its nuances run deep and are entangled in the violent complexities of our capitalist society. In order for us to better understand the imposter syndrome — not for production’s sake or in the name of efficiency, but for transparency instead — we need to engage with each other and talk about our experiences with it.
We need to pull each other up and reassure our peers that they will get the things they need to get done, done, and that they are worthy. The fact that we are college students — and are, in a lot of ways, at the height of our impressionable lives, dealing with family issues, multiple jobs, a full course load, extracurricular activities, relationships, etc., is more of a reason to talk and share and challenge our conceptions of self-tolerance and tolerance in other sectors of our daily lives.
Not feeling too hot about an assignment is one thing, but having such a difficulty trusting that you are worthy enough, so much so that it cripples your ability to do just about everything, is another.
If you — the person reading this — are experiencing symptoms of the imposter experience, or know it very well, then know that you are killing it. You will continue to persevere and prove not only other people, but, most importantly, yourself wrong.
Alright, I’m getting off my soapbox now and getting back to work.