Breaking out of the imposter syndrome mentality

Graphic by Simran Dhaliwal

Impostor syndrome, for those of you who are blissfully unaware of it, is quite literal to the term. It means that you feel like you’re going to be exposed as a fraud, a phony or a fake in a job, at school or in a variety of things that are typically meant to be positive endeavours.

I’ve battled with this problem for as long as I can remember and it’s only intensified as I have grown older. Any period of success for me has created an overwhelming sense of doubt that I don’t belong in the position I’m in and I’m not qualified enough to be holding any role, let alone a meaningful one.

This discernible lack of confidence has caused me to self-sabotage in the past.  

In high school, I transformed into a shrinking violet once I entered any classroom. No longer sure of myself like the once over-eager elementary school student I used to be, everything felt like a test to see how quickly I’d fail and be judged for it.

Despite doing incredibly well on the swim team – and being on the track to becoming a certified lifeguard – I gave up on it. Life threw me some obstacles, I gained quite a lot of weight in a short period of time and the solidifying factor of this brash decision was made when an instructor told me I was “too fat” to succeed at the sport.

I’ll probably never find my golden ticket or the answer to all of my problems, but I sure as hell won’t let something like my conquerable impostor syndrome stop me from living my life guiltlessly and enjoying it.

Hearing this merely reaffirmed every negative thought I had been thinking about myself up until that point. Instead of using it as a motivational tool to say, “Fuck you,” defy expectations and have my Disney channel moment of redemption, I let that overwhelming feeling that I was never good enough to begin with consume my mentality. I used it as an excuse to throw in the towel (literally) and back away from something that I loved.

Struggling with impostor syndrome is something that’s been the hardest to shake since I entered university.

Even though I did well in terms of grades in high school, my experiences weren’t what I wanted them to be. I was ill on and off for most of my time there and because of it, I turned into a skittish hermit wreaked with nonsensical mental distress over the littlest things – so being the class valedictorian of 2014 really wasn’t an option.

Gaining any sort of recognition for my abilities has been an uncomfortable transition since I stepped foot onto Laurier’s campus. It’s been difficult: forcing myself to live up to my potential, when just a few years ago I would cower away, do all of my work at home and pretend that was sufficient.

Actually extending effort into my schoolwork, health and extracurriculars, means that I’m putting myself into the difficult position of having responsibility. Responsibility that a lot of the time I don’t feel like I entirely deserve.

My tendency is to bombard myself with questions over how I could possibly do well in anything I attempt and – if I do perform strongly – my progress won’t last.

Constantly feeling like an out of place stranger amongst groups of people who you constantly compare yourself to can be challenging to say the least.

Sometimes I feel myself slipping back into that detrimental mindset where I want to succumb to my supposedly ingrained penchant for failure, but I’ve learned how to cope with it. Instead of constantly being on edge and thinking that some faceless entity is going to call me into their office and fire me from life, I take a deep breath and force myself to be realistic.

Am I – or will I ever be – perfect? Of course not. I’m a flawed human being who happens to be very aware of these imperfections and I want to work on improving them, rather than erasing them completely.  

 I’m surrounded by an unending network of support that would be collectively pissed off if I allowed myself to give up. And more importantly, I would let myself down if I chose to stop trying.

That’s the key, I think, to shutting up that annoying devil on my shoulder, that persistent voice echoing inside my head whenever I move up, instead of falling down. The person I’ll inevitably disappoint the most is me and that sort of downer is a hell of a lot harder to live with than an optimistic perusal of achievement and happiness. Positive things will end up being deserved because I earned them, not because I faked my way to get there.

I’ll probably never find my golden ticket or the answer to all of my problems, but I sure as hell won’t let something like my conquerable impostor syndrome stop me from living my life guiltlessly and enjoying it.

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