Being this close to graduation is exhilarating. Finally, after four years of working hard (and occasionally playing hard), it is time to walk across that stage and get a piece of paper that will collect dust in your parents’ house while you go off into the real world — a “real adult” at last.
Graduating, though, can also bring up a lot of terrifying emotions. You were a college student and now, suddenly, you’re not anymore. It’s enough to launch anyone into a deep identity crisis.
Even armed with an airtight five-year plan and all the motivation in the world, you may still find yourself with an unshakeable feeling of self-doubt: You may develop Impostor Syndrome.
Writing for Scientific American, psychologist Ellen Hendricksen describes Impostor Syndrome as “a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
She explains that it tends to impact high-achievers and that in terms of demographics, it disproportionately affects minorities and women.
High-achievers, who have been told they were smart their whole lives, may start to attribute their success to something arbitrary and innate rather than to their own hard work and creativity, and start to feel like frauds.
Minorities and women, who are often the “only one” or one of just a few in their workplace or grad-school class, may start to feel that they don’t belong and that they could never compete with their white, male peers.
Impostor Syndrome is that voice in your head telling you that you are not good enough, that you’ve faked your way to the top; it leaves you with an unshakeable anxiety that you will, one day, be found out for the fraud that you are.
It’s particularly difficult to deal with because no matter what you do, and how much you achieve, that lingering doubt is still there.
It makes you discount your achievements because it convinces you that you are not good enough, so anything that you accomplish is not really an accomplishment or it convinces you that it happened because you just got lucky.
Imposter syndrome is, in its essence, anxiety about belonging. In transitional periods, like right after graduation, everything feels like it’s changing so quickly and it’s easy to feel lost.
College graduates are moving from the very familiar role of the student to a completely unknown role. It is easy to doubt yourself when you’re just starting to learn the ropes of how to navigate new jobs, new relationships and a new lifestyle.
In anticipation of those feelings, here are some suggestions that may help you deal with Impostor Syndrome.
1. Accept that it may happen.
As someone who has had a lot of experience with them, let me tell you: anxiety spirals are not fun. As ridiculous as it sounds that a person can be anxious about being anxious, it still happens.
Rather than beating yourself up for feeling self-doubt, accept it as a natural part of the change you are going through and work on avenues to overcome it.
It’s important to recognize when something is wrong, sure, but when that recognition turns into a paralyzing anxiety that keeps you from doing things that may help you feel better, it becomes a problem.
2. Celebrate your accomplishments.
Since Imposter Syndrome convinces you that your accomplishments are either nonexistent or worthless, prove yourself wrong. Make a list of things you’re proud of about yourself, personally and professionally.
In one column, write down what you achieved, and in the other column, write what you had to do to achieve it. Update the list every few months, like a resume for yourself. Pull the list out and look at it whenever you doubt your abilities or start to think you’ve only come this far because you’re lucky.
3. Make your self-criticism kind and constructive.
Self-reflection is an essential part of the process of working to make yourself better. Being self-aware will help you grow as a person — but being overly critical to the point where you can’t find any redeemable qualities about yourself is counterproductive, and the opposite of self-awareness.
If you find yourself relentlessly criticizing yourself in ways that are not helpful, stop, take a breath and re-evaluate. Instead of focusing on your failures, think of ways to address your shortcomings, little by little — and then work towards achieving that.
Don’t be overly-critical if you fail sometimes, or you fall back into old habits again. It’s a cliché, sure, but it’s true: progress is rarely a straight line, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to get back at it and try again.
4. Surround yourself with supportive people whose opinions you trust.
No one does anything entirely alone — and dealing with Imposter Syndrome is no different than anything else. Turn to the people in your life you trust to lift you back up when you’re feeling down and remind you of why you’re amazing.
Sometimes, it takes someone else’s inner Kate Nash to remind your inner Tavi Gevinson that you’re a badass bitch from hell and no one can fuck with you — so find your Kate Nash.