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Opinion: Impostor syndrome is the norm among students, but it shouldn’t be

(Isabella Lee/Daily Bruin)

By Sabrina Huang

Aug. 16, 2021 1:16 p.m.

I can sum up my first lecture at UCLA in one word: overwhelming.

Back then, it was normal to shimmy your way through packed aisles, knocking over notebooks and computers while apologizing profusely under your breath. I still don’t know how I was able to find my friend and slide into the seat she had saved for me in less than a minute.

Class began once the teaching team entered the room. I recall sitting in awe as my peers shot their hands up seconds after our professor asked a question, ready with answers I could only dream of coming up with. And here I was, just beginning to process what he had said.

The rest of that lecture is a blur now. What I do remember is how I felt afterward. I was sure of one thing: UCLA made a mistake accepting me and I made another mistake taking it up on its offer.

Turns out, there’s a name for this feeling.

Impostor syndrome is a phenomenon in which people believe they’re in a position because of luck rather than ability, said Bobby Verdugo, a licensed clinical social worker and a behavioral health faculty member at the UCLA Division of Internal Medicine-Pediatrics. For people with impostor syndrome, there’s a perpetual fear that others will discover they are “frauds,” undeserving of current and future success.

Impostor syndrome affects everyone, but certain groups are impacted more acutely, Verdugo said. Women of color, for example, have a greater likelihood of experiencing self-doubt because of the constant devaluing of their worth – a product of structural racism and sexism. Students with disabilities may also face a higher risk of feeling isolated, Verdugo added.

Many of us will experience impostor syndrome during our time at UCLA, and that’s OK. We shouldn’t bottle up our feelings because they make us vulnerable. Rather, they’re a reminder that we aren’t perfect and should never strive to be.

I know it’s difficult, but we must always prioritize our physical and mental health. Take advantage of resources the university offers like the Community Programs Office, the Bruin Resource Center and the Transfer Student Center. Schedule appointments with Counseling and Psychological Services or visit the Resilience In Your Student Experience Center. Verdugo suggests finding a community on campus, whether that be identity- or interest-based. After all, there is strength in numbers.

“Look at the things that you struggle with as just areas of growth – that (impostor syndrome) is normal, that everybody is experiencing those things,” Verdugo said. “Celebrate the strengths that you do have and know … that (a) setback is just an opportunity for learning. It’s an opportunity to explore yourself or an area that is unfamiliar.”

We also need to recognize that impostor syndrome isn’t something you easily shake off. I’m about to enter my third year at UCLA, and there are many days where I still wonder whether I should be here or whether I am making my family proud. And with a return to campus after a year and a half of existing in the virtual sphere, a transition that is already stressful will be even more so.

Living with impostor syndrome isn’t a one-day sprint – it’s an enterprise that requires attention and self-love. So, don’t let your insecurities get the better of you.

You belong at UCLA, and it deserves you.

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Sabrina Huang | Opinion editor
Huang is the 2021-2022 Opinion editor. She was previously a 2020-2021 assistant Opinion editor and an opinion columnist. She is also a third-year public affairs student at UCLA.
Huang is the 2021-2022 Opinion editor. She was previously a 2020-2021 assistant Opinion editor and an opinion columnist. She is also a third-year public affairs student at UCLA.
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