Everyone doubts themselves occasionally. It’s a part of us that makes us human! However, when a bit of self-doubt turns into feeling like a fraud, you may just have imposter syndrome. If it is not recognized and treated, it can lead to severe mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Imposter syndrome can be recognized by the following traits and behaviors:
1. Self-doubt following an achievement
2. Feeling like a “fraud”
3. Fear that you won’t live up to your and other people’s expectations
4. Depending on external validation
5. Inability to use skills from experience due to self-doubt
6. Being an insecure overachiever
7. Doubting your worth
My imposter syndrome started when my sister passed away in 2016. I fundraised for a non-profit organization, and raised over $1,000 in my sister’s memory. The following year, I won an award for being a recognized under 18 young adult fundraiser. What am I doing? How do I deserve this at only age 17? Why are they giving me an award? While concentrating on my grief from my sister's passing, I didn’t realize how much I had overcome the past year, but other people recognized my efforts and achievements.
In Fall 2017, I began college and was ready to start fresh. I joined 4 clubs and a community service fraternity, but still did not feel like I found my place. So, I did what dozens of girls were doing in the spring: sorority rush. I doubted myself when it came to bid day because I didn’t have the nice clothes that other girls were wearing, or the accomplishments that they had. However, the sorority girls saw something in me that they liked. I accepted their bid because I thought that it would be a good opportunity for me to meet people and network.
After a year of being in the sorority, I felt like the biggest fraud, constantly doubting my worth. This was despite the fact that I participated in many activities, meetings, and even held a leadership role. From the start, I convinced myself that the girls only picked me because they didn’t have anyone else, or because they pitied me due to my past and my disabilities. I felt like I didn’t belong there, or deserve to be there, so I decided to leave the sorority for the sake of my mental health.
After leaving the sorority due to feeling like a fraud, things started to go downhill. I lost so many friends. I forgot who I was before Greek life. My friends from before sorority rush had moved on. I felt like I was failing my parents’ expectations of me, and my expectations of myself. I was hopeless, and didn’t know what to do next.
I sought validation from a therapist, from group therapy, and even from my parents, but nothing filled that void. To top it all off, I came from a strict, conservative, Asian family, which made my imposter syndrome even worse. Spring 2019 was full of anxiety, stress, depression, and loneliness as I self-sabotaged my happiness. Throughout the year, I realized that my need for external validation stemmed from insecurity; if I never accepted myself, I’d never be truly content.
The fall of 2019, I transferred from the small private college I was at, to a large state university. It opened up numerous doors for me, such on-campus internships. An internship was something that my old college didn’t have, and something that I believed that I could do. However, the pandemic came in 2020, and interrupted my internship search, which led me to discover remote internships.
I doubted myself so much that I had mental breakdowns and fights with my parents about not having enough experience due to the pandemic and not being good enough to be an intern. I was ruining my self-esteem and holding myself back by worrying that I wouldn’t get accepted to an unpaid student internship. It was not only a traumatizing time for me, but the whole world was fighting for sanity due to the pandemic. After numerous mental breakdowns, emails to professors, and applications, I finally heard back from a place and found what I wanted to do: Digital Marketing.
After completing that internship, I returned to my old habits, and became insecure in my achievements. As I listened to classmates talk about cool experiences and family zoom bonding, my self-doubt soared. I was sitting at home alone with parents who were working or not paying attention to me. I felt like an imposter because of the isolation of my only-child life; my mental health continued to decline.
When I went back to school, in person, in the fall of 2021, I didn’t really know anyone. I lost my energy and self-worth as I attempted to participate in as many activities and campus events as I could before I graduated. I feared that I had lost every skill I learned from being a transfer student and marketing intern due to the year of isolation. My imposter syndrome invalidated all of my accomplishments, as I focused on my insecurities and shortcomings, rather than my achievements (such as being a club secretary and active participant in community service events).
After many anxiety attacks and “What am I doing with my last semester of college?” panics, I finally accepted that I am enough. It required a lot of inner work, help from my therapist, and support from friends. I now have the skills I need to be successful.
The past 6 years were difficult due to my imposter syndrome, and isolation in the pandemic. I remained silent and never told my friends what I was going through. I hid in my bedroom and had naps, mental breakdowns, and panic attacks by myself, which led me to call my parents and tell them that I did not feel worthy of being at a university. While I had two or three friends to talk to, they were also struggling with their mental health post-pandemic.
Now, after battling these insecurities, I realized that I had an opportunity to share my story with others. I went from a grieving teenager, who turned her pain into power, to a student who held two internships during a global pandemic. My therapist constantly reminds me of my worth and accomplishments, especially when I get caught up in comparisons. I am thankful for the small group of friends that I have right now, who relate to my struggles, and help me be a better version of myself.
Today, I am a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English searching for a marketing job. I have accomplished so much in the last 6 years, and didn’t even realize it. I was too focused on what other people were accomplishing to give myself any credit. If you find yourself feeling alone, calling yourself a fraud, and being insecure about your achievements, don’t be afraid to speak up about what you are going through, whether that’s online or in-person.
You are not alone, you are not an imposter, and you deserve all you have accomplished.
Some affirmations for those who suffer from self-doubt:
1. Success isn’t surprising; it’s repetition.
2. Gratification is everything and we often forget to take it in.
4. We tend not to give ourselves not enough grace.
5. Don’t count the mistakes and the rejections; count the successes and blessings.
6. Remember that you don’t need anyone to tell you that you're in the right place at the right time.
Written by: Katherine Chung