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Student’s Survival Guide: The hidden struggle of imposter syndrome

Does “fake it ‘til you make it” even work?

I used to feel dumb compared to everyone else and I still do sometimes. It sucks, and it makes me feel like I’m fooling everyone into believing I’m smart enough to be in university. 

I’ve come to learn that this ‘imposter syndrome’ surprisingly affects a lot of students. I have spoken to a wide variety of students who have said they felt it at least once in their university career. 

According to Verywell Mind, “Imposter syndrome is the psychological experience of feeling like a fake or a phony despite any genuine success that you have achieved. It can show up in the context of work, relationships, friendships, or just overall.”

I learned to overcome imposter syndrome by recognizing that I, like my peers around me, deserve the right to an education. However, this is a lot easier to say than believe. I still struggle with imposter syndrome occasionally, but I know it’s important to remember my worth and supply myself with healthy coping mechanisms when I’m in moments of doubt.

Find your way to cope

Getting a bad grade on a test or struggling with a certain class increases my feelings of self-doubt, and almost everyone struggles with a few tough classes throughout their degree. So, it’s important to know how to deal with imposter syndrome when it hits you. 

A bad grade (or a few) does not define your entire time in university. Take it from me, someone who felt such intense imposter syndrome it led me to skip classes and self-sabotage my degree until I switched schools and changed programs. 

“Fake it ‘til you make it” has been my philosophy lately. It might be an overused phrase, but it works for me. Realizing that other students, and even professors, deal with imposter syndrome too provides some consolation and helps you not feel so alone. According to Arizona State University, estimates show that nearly 70% of academic professionals experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. 

Imposter syndrome can lead to burnout if not properly dealt with, and for some, it never completely vanishes. It’s common for it to rear its ugly head at major life changes and career shifts. If you consider yourself to have a strong inner perfectionist, you may feel the need to constantly work towards the “perfect” outcome, when, in reality, it’s okay to just be good enough. 

Striving for perfection can be counterproductive and can increase feelings of imposter syndrome. Sometimes good enough is genuinely good enough and being kind to yourself is better than being perfect. 

Don’t be afraid to talk about it

If you find that you struggle with the idea of accepting your academic progress as it is, it may be a good idea to speak to a counsellor or therapist about how to overcome these feelings. Speaking to a friend who is also in university could be helpful, especially in sharing about each other’s experiences. 

Although it can be almost impossible not to feel like an imposter from time to time, it is important not to let imposter syndrome get the best of you. It is a lot easier to say than do and actually practice self-acceptance. I’m still working on it myself. Just remember to sometimes let good enough be good enough and above all be kind to yourself.

Mental health supports at Dalhousie:

Book same-day counselling online or by phoning 902-494-2171

Visit Dal Mental Health Services for more information on all of Dalhousie’s mental health resources

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