An honest critique of imposter syndrome

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I am yet to meet a single person who is a stranger to that all so familiar voice. I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve to be here. Why would anyone choose me? Amidst application season, it seems as though these voices, these destructive mantras, are deafening. So many of us are our own worst enemy, so it’s not surprising we often hold ourselves back. We avoid making a noise, afraid of climbing so high that we have further to fall. We hide inside ourselves, unable to conceive of the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we might be worth something more. 

I believe the way forward is through a reassessment of the role errors and mistakes made. Rather than being a constant reminder of our failures, let our pitfalls be a way to learn, and a way to remember that despite the tiny moments of feeling incapable, learning from our experiences is the best way to feel truly accomplished.

Impossible standards are what keep us trapped in our minds

Given the current context, with everyone expressing disappointment at the plethora of rejection emails being received, it isn’t hard to see how this may damage one’s self-confidence. This is often exacerbated by the greater issue which frequently arises in Durham: students from state schools or lower-income backgrounds feel inferior or marginalised by their peers. Despite the phenomenal work being done to combat this, for instance, work by the 93% Club, these insecurities and fears often run deep. They cannot be overcome rapidly. This has created a generation of students crippled by feelings of mediocrity, inferiority, and, quite frankly, of being an imposter. We can’t wipe out these anxieties instantly, but we can seek to understand and listen.

I want to talk about how absurd, damaging and disempowering this kind of imposter syndrome can be. Rather than dismissing it, telling myself to just ignore it, I want to unpack how and why these voices operate, and how we can move towards a more productive understanding of the phenomenon. For myself, at least, it is often a case of fear of the unknown, past failures or reverence of others. But I, like many others, am trying to challenge this narrative. Whilst, of course, I have made mistakes and messed up in the past, who am I to say that this makes me a failure? Are past errors not the way forward, the way that we learn? Are the things that make me doubt myself not the things that teach me, that make me better, that make me human? 

You might be an imposter, but rather an imposter than inhuman

The very mistakes that often contribute to imposter syndrome could be the solution. If every student gave up after a bad mark, if everyone in the working world quit after messing up, no one would do anything. I would argue that the very moments we feel like an imposter — the moments where you fail a test, can’t keep up with a conversation, or even feel like you don’t fit in because of the way you dress — are the moments where we realise just how ‘normal’ we are. You are not an imposter because you aren’t perfect. You are an imposter because you think that to fit in, you have to be perfect. Those impossible standards are what keep us trapped in our minds, what allow bullies and critics to keep you ‘in your place’ — even if the critic comes from within.

Next time you feel out of place, and can sense the violent words of imposter syndrome kicking in, remind yourself that it’s okay. If everyone felt perfectly in place all of the time, life would be easy, and challenges would not exist. Remember that how you get through the tough moments is what makes you, you. You might be an imposter, but rather an imposter than inhuman.  

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