never good enough
In a room of 20 young women at one of the nation's top schools - every single one of them - admitted to feeling like they are not, and never will be, good enough.
This past week, Ashley Looker of Unique Holistic Happiness and I co-hosted a seminar entitled "College Survival Strategies" for some of Pacific Lutheran University's young women. I planned to discuss essay writing, until I noticed how carefully the girls were listening, taking notes, and asking questions. And that's when it hit me - this was a room full of high-achieving students who had given up free time on a Monday night to come listen to Ashley and I discuss excelling in college.
I went off the script and asked, "Has anyone in here ever felt like they aren't good enough? That you aren't smart enough? That you don't work hard enough? That maybe the university made a mistake when admitting you, and you're not actually supposed to be here? Are you scared everyone is going to find out you're not good enough?"
The room went quiet. I waited.
I looked over at one of the girls who spoke up. "Every day, you said?" I repeated.
"Yes," she said, looking slightly embarrassed.
But then another girl raised her hand, "Me too."
Then another. Then everyone.
Every single student in the room at one of the nation's leading universities just admitted that they felt stupid, incompetent, and fraudulent in their academic lives.
"Guess what?" I told them, "What you're feeling is a real phenomenon. It's called the Impostor Syndrome, and it's important you know that it's your perception, but NOT necessarily reality."
"You know how I know this?" I went on. "When I was getting my master's degree at Harvard a few years ago, I was certain the school had made a mistake in admitting me. Because I was stupid! I mean, I got good grades, but I was obviously just fooling everyone. And I lived in fear that it was a matter of time before everybody else found out."
I continued telling them about how I saw an advertisement for a free seminar from Valerie Young, an expert on the Impostor Syndrome. It was offered at the end of summer, before classes were back in. I figured it would be just me and Valerie in that room since, hello, it was Harvard - everyone else there was a genius.
It was standing room only, people.
500-some students, including PhD candidates, packed the auditorium, convinced that they were all the single dumbest person at Harvard.
IT's just luck
Except it's not. You earned it. So own it.
I remember my master's thesis adviser forcing me to claim credit for my accomplishments after I told her, "I know I'm incredibly lucky, being accepted into this program."
"It's not luck, Jessica," she corrected me. "You did this. You got here. You know that right?" And she stared at me while I squirmed in my seat, horribly uncomfortable with what was going on.
She didn't let me leave until I said I believed her.
i never do anything right
It took me a long time to realize two things:
First, what we constitute as a "failure" needs to be put in appropriate perspective. You didn't win that incredibly competitive scholarship or get into Yale? That's ok. Neither did thousands of other people. It's not personal.
Second, as Pollyanna as it sounds, failures can lead to new, unforeseen opportunities. I thought I wanted to go to Dartmouth for undergrad. I was DEVASTATED when I didn't get in. Like, Messy Sobbing In A Pillow Devastated. Then I ended up at Notre Dame and I can't imagine having gone anywhere else, especially considering how my time there set me up for multiple opportunities after graduation.
I'm safe for now, but what about next time?
You will discover that sometimes your best isn't good enough, but you are good enough.
You can feel lucky to be at your particular school, but it wasn't luck that got you there. It was you.
You have failed at things but you're not a failure.
So there. Your secret is out.