Edit desk: Living a lie


I have no idea what I’m doing. 

Sam Topp

In fact — even as I’m writing this column — I’m wondering what I’ve done to be in this position in the first place. Since I began my time as a reporter, I’ve often scraped things together at the last minute to provide some semblance of an article for submission.

What credibility does my perspective have?

My story started at my previous school, Boston University, in an engineering program I didn’t like, living in a city where I didn’t belong. To me, everyone seemed to already have friends and extensive knowledge of the city before I had finished unpacking my belongings.

I remember going to downtown Boston with my roommates, who had brought along some of their friends. I felt like an outsider watching people crack jokes and talk about their experiences as if they had known each other for years, though it had only been a few weeks.

Fast forward to my time at Lehigh. Start studying mechanical engineering, switch to chemistry, switch to physics, add journalism, switch to science writing. After changing majors six times over two years, I’ve finally settled on psychology. In each program I’ve hit a wall that convinced me I wasn’t confident enough to know what I was talking about or what I was doing.

During all of this, I’ve felt like an impostor.

The impostor syndrome, coined in 1978, is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. It’s the feeling of faking your way through life, never quite reaching a level of understanding you see within your peers.

The cause varies between different people — my feelings likely stem from my experiences with depression. The impostor syndrome is also likely to be experienced when individuals, often high-achievers, view their accomplishments with excessive humility while receiving praise.

Because these traits often follow stressful periods in a person’s life, college students are more susceptible to impostor syndrome. A 2011 study found that 70 percent of people experience at least one episode during their lives.

During these episodes, it can be hard to feel like anything is worth doing. It’s mentally draining to push through your work while feeling like you’re just writing on a page to get it over with. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that maybe, just maybe, you don’t deserve to get a grade or acknowledgement for a job well done. It can be hard to stay logical and view your accomplishments on their own merit.

When I successfully transferred schools, I wondered why I wasn’t able to make Boston work. I adjusted to Lehigh and found great friends, but I felt like I hadn’t done anything productive for the entirety of my sophomore year. Any progress I made socially was met with a lack of satisfaction in other aspects of my life.

This year, as a junior, I feel like I’m finally on the right career path as I pursue my goal to be a counselor, but I still feel lazy for my decision not to stick with more difficult programs. I’ve made great friends here, but I still wonder why I sometimes feel like an outsider. I’m involved in multiple clubs and groups on campus, but I still think I should be doing more.

Why do I feel this way? What logical reason do I have for thinking I’m inadequate? Why does this feeling persist, even after knowing the majority of people experience the same thing?

Part of the cause is the impostor syndrome’s inherently private nature. It’s difficult to talk about feelings of inadequacy with anyone but my most trusted friends. Even with statistics backing it up, convincing myself that others feel the way I do is incredibly hard when I only witness classmates being productive during school hours.

There is a difference between the way we feel and the way things are. Some days, we feel stuck, like everyone else is growing and learning while we try to hold on with every ounce of willpower we have. It’s important to remember the work and success it took to get this far in the first place.

Not all successes are measured by our transcripts or our job offers after graduation. And just because the person next to you looks confident, it doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking the same thing about you. Life is not black and white.

But one thing is certain: I’ve felt this way, you might have felt this way, and we will continue to feel this way.

We will continue to succeed, just as we did to get where we are now.

Sam Topp, ’18, is an associate news editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. Robert Davenport on

    Sam, I’ve enjoyed the visit to your thought processes. As an engineer, I feel your psychology major is a good choice. Enjoy the journey!

  2. Thank you for expressing what many others are feeling and not willing or able to articulate. Excellent article!

  3. Great article. Definitely relate. Sometimes it is important to take several steps back to identify the simple truths and ideas in life you would truly enjoy, then small steps to get there. Getting mentors is vital. Then focus on enjoying the “now” outside of being productive for the “later”.

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