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The Paradox: Ambition and Imposter Syndrome

The Paradox: Ambition and Imposter Syndrome

Receiving an acceptance letter from a prestigious university or program can be the best moment of your life. You get to be surrounded by ambitious, driven, smart classmates and get amazing opportunities from your professors and programs. What they don’t tell you is that once you arrive, imposter syndrome kicks into high gear. There is nothing like impressive buildings and extensive choices to remind you of your “normalcy” or insecurities. Dreams and ambitions are the drives for reaching your goals and becoming a competent and professional woman, but when you have to start making progress on them, you can feel smaller than ever. How do you fight these thoughts in the back of your mind? How do you fight imposter syndrome? 

I have talked a lot about this as a Freshman at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. The classes I get to take are a dream come true, but that also means I am surrounded by some of the most passionate and determined people, which can get overwhelming. When I arrived, it seemed like everyone else knew exactly what they wanted to do in their careers. Three months in and many conversations later, I can tell you that I could not have been more wrong. It turns out everyone, even the girl in my freshman seminar class who dreams to be a red carpet reporter, also deals with imposter syndrome. 

The challenge is: the bigger the dream, the bigger the insecurities. The ability to think big can be scary because it leaves so much room for failure. We are all ambitious women, which also means we have high standards for ourselves, and not living up to them can be a real fear. Sometimes it can feel like you are trapped between wanting everything and feeling like you deserve nothing. Thus, a paradox. Here are some tips to dealing with the feelings of imposter syndrome: 

First, remember that you were accepted!! 

The university clearly thinks you should be there and if anyone is the judge of who belongs, it’s them. You worked hard throughout high school to get to this point, so let yourself be proud! It is important to stay humble, but also remember to give yourself credit.


Second, you are there to learn. You are not supposed to know everything.

Part of growing and learning is to make mistakes; as painful as they can be, they are expected. Everyone is bound to make embarrassing mistakes throughout their lives, even if we don’t see it. It could be turning in a blank assignment and not realizing (guilty!) or tripping downstairs in front of everyone in the dining hall (guilty!), or even just getting a bad grade. If you are a “type A” (the afraid of failing type of person), it can truly feel like the end of the world. It can be a beet-red, heart-pounding, sweating bullets moment, but it’ll teach you to press save before you send in an assignment next time. 

It can be hard when you are in a room and feel like everyone is smarter and more put together than you, but just as you are trying to put on your most confident face, so is everyone else. If you were supposed to know everything when you first arrived, why would you even be attending? Think of it as a sign that you are getting your money’s worth. We all have to start somewhere and that has nothing to do with where you will end up.

Third, talk to your classmates because they probably feel similarly. 

I know it is so easy to say “branch out” or “be vulnerable,” but it definitely helps. We all are dealing with imposter syndrome in one form or another, especially as freshmen or newcomers. There can be a lot of comfort in knowing that you are not the only one with those insecurities. It can also help to joke about them, as well as commiserate about the mistakes you make along the way. I’m sure someone is more confused or has done something more embarrassing than you! It helps to have people that know what you are going through and are in your corner. 

Fourth, make a list of your accomplishments. 

By human nature, it is easier to remember the negative things in life. This applies to thinking about yourself as well. Sit down and make a list of all the things you have accomplished, big or small. Then, keep this list and keep adding to it to remind yourself why you deserve to be where you are. 

Lastly, visualize success, make plans, and do research on opportunities!

If all else fails and you cannot calm your nerves, do research and be as prepared as you can be. It will make you feel much less in the dark and intimidated. It also helps to keep yourself organized. Writing everything down in some organized fashion will help you to stay on top of everything and help you to feel in the know. Find speakers, talks, or discussions that can either help you to meet more people, meet your goals, or meet professionals who are successful in the field you would like to enter. The more you know, the easier it is to understand the path ahead. 

It is also important to visualize success. It not only helps to put you in the mindset, but it also can ease anxieties because you know what to expect. This thinking will also get you excited for your future and can push you forward. 

Remember, we all deal with imposter syndrome and it can feel impossible to reach your dreams some days, but that means they are important to you. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t feel this way. Take a breath, follow these steps, and get back to work.