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Impostor syndrome: confessions of a grad student, pt. 2


This has been a question I’ve been asking myself for the past few weeks. I’ve been wondering about my time here at Mills, and I feel like I’m losing it.

As I’ve stated in my last op-ed, I admit that I feel inadequate compared to my colleagues in my grad courses. I feel that they’re in on a secret with the professors and their minds that I’m left out of, and it’s driving me a bit nuts. I can blame that on me being a loner because I’ve always been one to do things without help or acceptance from someone else, but for the first time, I want to feel like I belong somewhere, specifically in my program.

Talking to my advisor about my courses for next semester last week (along with research I’ve done on my own) was when I realized that I’m going through the textbook definition of what psychologists call the “impostor syndrome.” According to the Caltech Counseling Center website, this is “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.”

In short, I feel like I’m not good enough to be in my program, that maybe my acceptance letter here was a mistake because everything is more difficult.

It doesn’t help that I have high ambitions for myself as a researcher, critical thinker and writer. I admit, I can be a huge perfectionist. I’ve excelled in practically everything since I was five. I know that I can make mistakes, and I’m learning that through this program, but can’t this come easier?

My high ambitions come from seeing my mom struggle as a single parent with only a high school diploma, raising me and my younger sister after my father passed. Although I think she did a great job, watching her make choices on whether bills or groceries had the higher priority that month or being late on rent sometimes definitely made me want better for myself.

Because I’ve always wanted more, there is also a pressure of being perfect from my support system as well. With every conversation I have with my mom, grandmother or my partner, I cannot express my insecurities about graduate school at all. There’s always tension in these talks because I feel that they’re not understanding my worries and insecurities as a grad student. According to them, I’m comparable to the character Kim Possible: I can do anything. I want them to understand I’m not going to be perfect in this program. I want them to experience the ups and downs of my journey with me instead of simply saying that “[I] can do it.”

However, there are small victories on some days, when I’ve read a text in an interesting way, and I can discuss it in one of my seminars. There are days when I’ve done all my work for my seminars and on-campus activities, and I can catch up on some sleep. Most of the time it seems like these things are not enough, but I have to start seeing them as more for me.

I have to stop holding myself in such a critical light. I’m here to learn and better myself as a writer and woman. Dealing with these “impostor” feelings are going to be difficult, but I’ve at least admitted that they exist. They’re going to take a while to let go of, but I’m willing to do it. I deserve my acceptance and place at Mills.