Yeah, about that imposter syndrome…

Snehal Choudhury, Contributing Writer

As a first-year student, it’s hard to believe I’ve already survived two months at Case Western Reserve University. While I have occasionally seen my parents over the semester, I’ve never lived away from home for this long before. I revel in the autonomy that comes with college, but it comes at the price of great responsibility. For example, it’s a race against time to plan my next meal before becoming “hangry-zilla” or to do my next load of laundry before running out of clean underwear. My life is a constant whirlwind of managing rigorous coursework, attending campus events and juggling a social life, all while somehow fitting in time for self-care. 

Simply put, it gets overwhelming. Despite these struggles, though, I think I’ve finally achieved some stability. I can comfortably manage my classwork and outside commitments at the same time. I have like-minded friends and I get along with my amazing roommate. While it is notable how much I have adjusted over the past couple of months, there has been one particular thing I’ve had a problem with.

According to the voice in my head, getting the hang of college life wasn’t that significant when other people were accomplishing “bigger and better things” in their time—although, what does that even mean? In my defense, I am a perfectionist, which always makes me strive to do better. In my time here, I’ve noticed that CWRU fosters a competitive culture that further makes one feel like an “imposter,” even if it’s irrational.

A big drawing point of CWRU is the plethora of opportunities it provides. It’s exciting how much the university offers its students, from its ThinkBox facilities to its undergraduate research opportunities. But with so many paths to take, combined with the sheer number of high-achieving students, it’s easy to feel inadequate. 

For instance, I have some friends already doing valuable research as first-years and others who confidently know what they’ll do with their college career. Even though it’s not healthy, I compare myself to them and debate if I’m shortchanging myself. In one of my classes, I learned about various co-ops and internships. I then feared that I wasn’t a “worthy” student if I didn’t pursue them quickly enough. I often read about CWRU researchers’ noteworthy achievements in The Daily, and it inspires me to work to have my own research accomplishments recognized someday. However, those warm feelings fade when I begin questioning whether I could even accomplish that.

I’m not alone in feeling this way. A first-year friend of mine said it perfectly: “At schools like CWRU, it feels like you’re never smart enough or working hard enough.” 

So, do these sentiments sound familiar to you? 

What I’ve described is the widespread phenomenon known as imposter syndrome. It’s when people, especially high achievers, feel inadequate or incompetent despite evidence to the contrary. Other symptoms include believing future success is unattainable and being disappointed in your current accomplishments. Imposter syndrome can be beneficial by preventing someone from becoming complacent. But more often than not, it leads to anxiety, depression and constant self-doubt, which takes away from the CWRU experience. 

I also learned that imposter syndrome is prevalent when transitioning to a new environment like college. I was relieved that these feelings were not unheard of. 

Now that we’ve defined imposter syndrome, how should we address it? 

As with any problem, the first step is acknowledging your feelings and opening up about it to others. This includes friends, family members or even a trusted adult. We often think we are the only ones suffering when, in reality, we are never alone. Just knowing that sentiment makes our ordeals much less painful.

More importantly, remember that it doesn’t matter what anyone else does. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t network with others or strive for greater things. But all that truly matters is that you enjoy your time at CWRU. No one else can or will determine that for you. Each person has their own interests and end goals; therefore, no two people will take the same path in college. So, while we can play the comparison game, it’s not worth it. I’ve found no one ever wins that game.

Furthermore, you are at CWRU to make the most of the opportunities offered here. You’ll be successful no matter what you do during your time at CWRU. While it might sound very cliché, it’s true. It’s just easy to forget when you’re deep in imposter syndrome.

I share my personal struggles not to evoke sympathy but to spotlight this issue. It’s a topic I’ve commiserated and joked about with my friends. Many people silently suffer from this problem without ever knowing that they’re not alone. Because imposter syndrome often harms people’s mental and emotional health, we can’t afford to overlook this issue any longer. 

College is challenging, and CWRU is no exception. The administration should encourage more open and honest dialogue about this issue among the student body. One way could be through wellness seminars. In a competitive environment, it helps to be explicitly reminded that every student is more than capable enough to “think beyond the possible.”

While I’ve loved my time here so far, there are always ways to improve the CWRU experience. Addressing imposter syndrome is the first step toward doing that.