Whether it's been in a lecture, a lab or just a casual conversation with your friends, you may have felt that strange feeling, the momentary pause in time where you look at yourself and come to a scary conclusion: you're not smart enough to be here. Once this idea gets into your head, you start going down the ideological slippery slope. You worry that you're going to fail your classes. You start to fear about losing your scholarships and grants. You'll question if you'll even graduate at all.
For me, it all started during my first week of classes. In high school, I was always one of the top students in my classes; even though I never studied, I still managed to grasp concepts fairly quickly and easily earn good grades. So, with this in mind, I entered college with this same mindset, assuming that everything would still be simple and straight-forward— come to class, take a few notes and pass my quizzes and tests with perfect grades. However, I was confronted by a rude awakening, which took the form of my honors chemistry class.
I hadn't taken chemistry since sophomore year, but, since I scored relatively well on the placement exam, my confidence was not shaken. Walking into class the first day, I was absolutely certain that I would breeze through the class. However, what started as easy refreshers quickly became difficult, foreign problems that I had never seen before; however, judging from the casual responses of my peers to the professor's questions, they apparently had. This was the beginning of the momentous shift toward the sudden realization that I was in a vulnerable position. I was no longer the top student. I was no longer the one every came to for questions. As the class progressed and the concepts got increasingly harder to grasp, I was no longer the A student.
My last realization was probably the hardest pill to swallow because I had been conditioned to view A's as my only acceptable reality; anything less was an inconceivable failure. Mistakes, struggles and hardship were enemies to my pristine perfection and were to be avoided at all costs. But even as I earned less than stellar grades on the quizzes and exams, I came to another important conclusion: it didn't matter. "How can getting B's and C's not matter?" You may ask yourself this, completely shocked by such a bold statement. But, strange as it may be, this truth is the cure to the poisonous impostor syndrome.
The source of your feelings of inadequacy are not the consequences of some innate flaw in your being. You are smart enough. You are good enough. You are always capable. The problem is not you; it's your approach. The hunger for perfection only leads us to a road of dissatisfaction and emotional turmoil. The point of education is not to strive for perfection and lament your short-comings. The point is to embrace your short-comings. Of course, you don't know everything! That's why you're still a student. Your only job is to learn and improve on yourself, and that's a task you can never fail.
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