Sometimes I feel like someone has made a terrible mistake, the feeling that some oversight has allowed me to be where I am now. Who let me get a Bachelor's degree? Who decided to give me an interview? How did I get here? Do I have them all fooled so well? I realize this feeling is quite common, and yet it is so hard to stifle. This phenomenon has a name: imposter syndrome. It's not a diagnosis in itself, but it could indicate a more significant issue (though it doesn't have to be). So what on earth is imposter syndrome, and how does it impact people's mental health?
I think I had a lingering feeling of not belonging for most of my life. From a young age, I compared myself to others and always found myself lacking. I was inadequate, not smart enough, or funny enough, or pretty enough, or just enough. Imposter syndrome for me was where depression and anxiety collided. Imposter syndrome makes you feel like an outsider, like someone who fundamentally does not belong. I felt like I would always fall short of others and that when I did well, it was some mistake, and someone would see through me eventually.
It's interesting how fully competent, smart, and helpful people can be so thoroughly convinced that they are undeserving of praise or achievement. In fact, the more someone achieves, the worse this feeling may get. As you climb up the ladder of success, you begin to peer down at how high up you are and wonder what the fall would be like, wonder how long you can keep it up. You may be convinced you are only successful by luck or some mistake. I remember one time in high school, sitting in AP US history, wondering what terrible mistake had been made that had landed me in this class full of these put together, intelligent people. I didn't see myself in them, and therefore assumed I did not belong.
The typical picture of someone with a mental illness is someone dysfunctional, not ambitious, or successful. People with mental illness are thought to be on the fringes of society, out of sight. It's quite dangerous to ignore that mental illness, sometimes quite serious mental illness, can manifest in seemingly exceptionally well put together, successful people. For a long time, I pursued perfection with a dangerous intensity, and to the outside, it might have appeared like I was doing quite well for myself. But I never believed I compared to any of the people around me. I felt like I was wearing a mask of normality and was hiding how incompetent I was to everyone else.
Imposter syndrome is something a lot of people experience, and it's a complicated issue. I still sometimes get the nagging feeling that I'm an outsider, that I'm not as good as other people around me. Most of the time, though, I try not to compare myself or my accomplishments to others. I acknowledge my achievements as my own and recognize I got to where I am today from my merit. Imposter syndrome isn't a diagnosis, but it could be a sign of a more significant issue.
I had to look at myself and work on my poor self-esteem and anxiety about how others perceived me before I began to feel more comfortable in my successes. Imposter syndrome, as well as the broader issue of perfectionism, are often overlooked and minimized. They are severe issues that impact how a person sees themself, their place in this world, and their accomplishments and failures. I want you to know that if you're reading this and any of this has resonated with you, your accomplishments belong to you alone. It took me a long time, but I recognize my worth now. Everyone deserves to celebrate their achievements instead of doubting them. If any of this has resonated with you, I want you to know that your accomplishments are yours alone. You are deserving, and you don't have to be perfect to fit in.