Edit desk: Grappling with impostor syndrome



When writing an important email, my dad always tells me to proofread and take out the six exclamation points I inevitably add.

“Well, I want to seem nice!” I told him after he significantly toned down an email I had asked him to look over.

“You don’t need to seem nice. You need to make your point,” he said. 

The more I think about it, the more I believe he is right. Why do I feel the need to make myself approachable instead of asserting myself when I communicate?

As a “girly girl” through and through, I know I can be underestimated. In high school, I was captain of a competitive cheerleading team. I’ll never forget how many people told me that “cheerleading isn’t a sport” after we went to the New York State Championships.

Academically, my school was competitive.

 I laughed off lines like “I didn’t know you were that smart” from boys after I got accepted into Lehigh, and I would smile and nod when I’d receive unsolicited advice to pursue careers in female-dominated fields.

I’m not sure why I put up with comments like this, or why I chose to make people comfortable at my own expense.

Recently, I realized that catering myself to be approachable and friendly all the time while also internalizing that pressure can hold me back.

This summer, I had an internship that I was proud of. I knew it was an accomplishment to land this job, and it felt like everything I was working for was paying off. However, as my start date loomed, I remember feeling imposter syndrome hit. What if I wasn’t good enough? Why did I get this job anyway?

After a restless night, I logged on for my first day. During orientation, part of me was distracted by the fear that I didn’t deserve to be there. The other interns, I assumed, must have more experience and skills. 

As the day continued, our responsibilities were laid out. I felt nervous for the upcoming summer and was worried that my mentor would not think I was capable. 

“Does anyone here actually know what they are doing?” one intern asked the group as soon as the coordinators hopped off the call.

I instantly felt a wave of relief. I don’t know why I assumed that these other college students came in with extensive experience. I realized that I was just as deserving as anyone else. We were all there to learn. Why would I be expected to be an expert already? Why would I not be worthy of an internship I was already offered?

As I approach graduation and beyond, I realize my experience is not unique. The pressure to seem approachable and kind can undermine you in situations where you need to command respect. As young people we can internalize this pressure in certain spaces, and it can sabotage us. Imposter syndrome is something that we all face, especially as students at a competitive school like Lehigh. 

I’ve made an effort to remove “sorry!!!!!!” from my vocabulary unless an apology is warranted and to stop opening my ideas with “this might be stupid, but.”

I now stop myself from making self-deprecating jokes about my stereotypically poor math skills (unless, of course, it’s a good one). Instead, I don’t hesitate to highlight my accomplishments when I’m feeling proud of myself.

Overcoming feelings of unworthiness when it comes to achievements is easier said than done. For me, I take it one exclamation point at a time. 

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