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Nov 15 2015
by Elizabeth Paul

Imposter's Syndrome: Fake It Till You Make It

By Elizabeth Paul - Nov 15 2015
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I have a confession to make: I feel like an imposter.

Coming into college, I knew that I would be surrounded by passion, drive, and intelligence. That notion excited me. I wanted to surround myself with those people; I wanted to learn from them and imitate them in hopes that maybe, just maybe, their world would bleed into mine.

But what I occasionally found instead was that their world and mine did not exactly line up, at least in my mind. I struggled to keep up with their pace, causing me to spend many more hours in the library and in need of much more time than them on assignments. I convinced myself that it was because I was not smart enough to be here. I didn’t belong. I was lucky, I was accepted here in the first place. And I full-heartedly believed that, even before I started college. I paid little attention on my campus tour during the summer before my senior year of high school because I was afraid of falling in love with the school. “I’ll never get in anyway,” I told myself. I even told that to other people when they asked me where I applied. I had friends, family, and teachers all telling me otherwise, but I wouldn’t let them convince me that I had a chance. I’d seen the acceptance rate and figured that everyone telling me I would get in simply didn’t know how many applicants my dream school turned down. How could they possibly choose me over the kids with higher test scores, more AP classes, and more awards?

Even after I got my acceptance letter, I continued to hold onto the mindset that I was miraculously lucky, that I somehow slipped through the cracks and made it through unseen. After all, luck must play some role in college admissions; how else could they possibly pick so few out of so many applications? I started telling everyone that it must have been because they wanted geographical diversity; I was the only student from my high school ever to apply to this university, so it made sense. Or I would say that they chose me because I’m a first-generation college student, so they needed a bump in their numbers. No matter what I said, though, my reasons for being accepted were never on the basis of merit, but only on the basis of luck, of something out of my control.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I felt this way around my accomplished classmates. Don’t get me wrong, I am still thrilled that I have the opportunity to study with them as my peers; they motivate me to work harder and inspire me to strive for bigger and better dreams, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But sometimes I feel that I don’t deserve to be here with them, which leads me to wonder why I am here, something I ask myself admittedly more than I should. More importantly, though, I fear that they might realize this, too.

A couple of days into my freshman year, I discovered that this fear of being “found out” as a fraud actually has a name- Imposter's Syndrome, and it’s surprisingly common in high-achieving individuals, especially in women. Researchers suggest that up to 70% of people have experienced the phenomenon at one time. People who fall victim to Imposter’s Syndrome experience feelings of not feeling smart enough or accomplished enough no matter what they have achieved, and they believe those accomplishments happened by chance. They worry that they are not as smart or accomplished as others may believe, creating the notion that they are an imposter.

If you have ever felt this way, you are certainly not alone, especially as a first-year student in college. A notion of effortless perfection seems to linger everywhere on a college campus, where everyone seems to balance their course work, extracurricular activities, and a social life effortlessly. But this is typically not true, and the effort happens behind the scenes. While struggling with Imposter’s Syndrome can be frustrating at times, putting in effort and hard work does not make you (or me) any less able or deserving to be where you are, do well, and succeed. 

Lead Image Credit: Chris Devers

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Elizabeth Paul - Vanderbilt University

Elizabeth Paul is a freshman at Vanderbilt University double majoring in Human and Organizational Development and English. She was the editor-in-chief of her school's newspaper and is an avid fan of Taylor Swift, cupcakes and classic literature. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @_ElizabethhP.

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