Some Thoughts on Imposter Syndrome

Struggling while others appear to be doing fine. Feeling overwhelmed by others’ accomplishments. Listening to someone rattle off about their three-letter-initialism program participation during introductions while you struggle to think of something equally impressive you’ve done yourself.

This is “imposter syndrome.” Among Us jokes aside, it’s a thing that all Yale students are bound to encounter, just due to the concentration of talent here.

Cassandra posted about it a year ago, and I think it’s a great perspective that everyone should read. This post serves as a sort of hybrid between an extension to her post and a standalone post. It’s probably going to be more introspective or something.

In the few months I’ve been associated with Yale, this feeling of “omg help I must have gotten here by mistake somehow” has only worsened. Even though everybody I’ve met here feels warm and welcoming, they feel almost ostracizing because of how amazing they are. As I sit here in a meeting room in the new Humanites Quadrangle with a couple of my friends, I just get overcome by a feeling of insufficiency, despite my self-reassurance that they’re going through the same things I am. I can play a string instrument, but I can’t play Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No. 2 (or at least some near-equivalent to it on the cello) flawlessly like my roommate sitting to the right of me can. I’ve attempted some ambitious YouTube video projects before, but I’ve never scored and worked on a whole short film like my friend to the left of me has. I can do some decently high-level math, but I’m not talented enough to skip to MATH 302 my first year or instantly come up with some genius math contest problems or understand every word of the first Yale Undergraduate Math Society seminar (what’s a Calogero-Moser space again?). Even when reading the others’ blogs and bios here, I feel out of place, since I don’t consider myself a particularly talented writer, nor do I really feel like a Yale student as of now, yet here I am. As much as I’d love to be a jack of all trades, master of all, I know it isn’t possible, and I’ve accepted it. But it still feels terrible sometimes.

To combat this, the attitude I like to take can simply be summed up by the phrase:

“So what?”

So what if other people are incredible? So what if they’ve done more? It’s not a reason to stop trying— my experiences and accomplishments are real (even if I can’t think of any off the top of my head), regardless of what others have done. Also, focusing on whatever others have done boxes you in; just because some friend started a non-profit or won a poetry contest doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing to be successful. However, it’s a vulnerable attitude; all it takes is meeting another amazing person and BAM— it’s back down the rabbit hole.

No matter where you go, what communities you participate in, what friend groups you join, you will feel this to at least a small extent. Yale students probably experience imposter syndrome more than most places, and this isn’t a bad thing; it just means our worldview is being expanded and we’re meeting really cool and amazing people.

I feel like it’s a cliché to end a post on a quote, but I really like this one, so I’m going to do it anyway. It’s from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, and it’s something I’ve always kept in mind for a while, especially when I start feeling useless and ordinary when I compare myself to others:

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”