The Fraud Within Us All

Alya Bohr, Columnist

Our student body contains a collection of blossoming young adults coming of age at a charged moment in time when we are constantly bombarded with unobtainable ideals, success stories and standards of perfection. In such an environment, it can be anything but easy to navigate the world from a place of confidence in our own abilities. As the disconcertingly happy façade of social media existence pervades our daily lives, it is often a burdensome battle not to look at our misshapen, patched-together, messy selves and feel alienated from the mass of shiny, happy people who seem to know exactly what they’re doing. It’s easy to feel like we’re holding ourselves together well enough to convince everyone that we belong, while somewhere deep down we feel like frauds.

There is, conveniently, a name for this nagging sensation: the impostor syndrome. It refers to such feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and fraudulency; it’s the sense that we are somehow faking it, while everyone else is actually making it. There’s a discrepancy that comes about when we feel societal pressure to appear like we’ve got everything on lockdown. Because, under that handy little mask of control, there sits a whole lot of muck and chaos. For virtually everyone. But as we go about the world, admiring all the polished people who seem to have everything figured out, we may start to feel more and more like frauds. When we succeed, it’s easy to attribute it to luck or convenient circumstance. When we fail, it’s hard not to identify that failure as our innate mode of being.

But here’s the catch: to some degree, we all feel this way. We all slink out of the classroom some days, feeling like everyone else knew what was going on while we tried desperately to hide our lack of understanding. We all find ourselves smiling and nodding aggressively in uncomfortable social situations, wishing we could navigate with the ease and confidence others seem to have. Quite frankly, this is a darn exhausting way to live, particularly when it’s an over-inflated and truly unjustified fear.

It’s tricky not to get wrapped up in the drama of our egos. On any given day, there are always opportunities for our self-esteem to take a beating, and we so often indulge in self-effacing thoughts. But sometimes we can’t trust the neurons that fire away, reinforcing our insecurities. Sometimes we have to stop and look beyond ourselves and see that when we work hard, when we find blooming moments of success, we have earned it. We are constantly creating and doing incredible things, which we would be able to see if we weren’t so primed to doubt ourselves.

So what then? How do we slip out from under this heavy weight that has us constantly second-guessing our abilities and morphing us into self-diagnosed fakes? Well, for starters, know that you belong—inherently, intrinsically and permanently. You just do. You deserve to be wherever you are and, believe it or not, you have the qualifications. In this splintered and imperfect world, working hard and doing our best is the golden, shimmery standard. And that is enough.

This is college. Things are harder in college, people are smarter, standards are higher. This is also life. Life, where we are constantly hurled into situations that challenge us, that make us feel slightly unnerved. Life, where we are encouraged to show the world our highlight reels and leave out the bloopers and the not-so-polished behind-the-scenes. Life, where people are defined by categories, by differences, by where they do or do not belong.

Which is all to say, it’s painfully normal to find ourselves in situations when we feel like the weakest link, like the one who has to try just a little harder to keep up with everyone. But we can let go of the debilitating fear of judgment. Either no one is an impostor or we all are. As is natural of beings whose entire consciousness revolves around their own lives, it can be hard to see the bigger picture, hard to see anything outside of our immediate concerns. We’re really all just bags of organs, walking around, trying to figure out life. No one has it all figured out, no one feels infallibly confident all the time, and no one spends their days thinking about whether or not you belong.

Go forth, bags of organs, and enjoy the ride; you have nothing to prove, you are not an impostor.