Junior year breeds Imposter Syndrome

March 9, 2020 — by Edwin Chen

After dealing with the academic stress of Saratoga and feeling inferior to my peers, I have been learning to accept who I am.

Nothing in school right now is going particularly well. It’s junior year, which is supposed to be the hardest year of high school. It honestly feels like a never-ending loop of long classes, homework and tests stacked on top of more tests. Out of all the past years, this year my schedule is the most loaded with hard classes. 

Throughout high school but especially during junior year, I have always felt a sense of inferiority every time I observe my peers. No matter how hard I try, whether it be on tests or in school activities, the result is that I end up feeling inadequate, like I don’t belong among my high-achieving peers. 

What I believe I might be dealing with is Imposter Syndrome, which, according to Harvard Business Review, is the feeling of inadequacy that persists despite success. Imposter Syndrome makes someone feel that luck is the reason why they have found success. The feeling has lingered inside of me throughout all of high school, especially because of the academically competitive environment. 

By most measures, Saratoga High School is one of the best high schools in California, ranking No. 24 according to US News and World Report. This high ranking is partially due to impressively high test scores. The average SAT score in 2019 at Saratoga was 1406, while the state average was 1076 and 1068 for the national average. Meanwhile, the average ACT here was 30.9, but the state average was at a much lower 22.6 and the national average at an even lower 20.7 

Even though the learning environment here is often referred to as “toxic,” most of my friends just go with it, pressuring me into following them to my own destruction. 

Everywhere I look, my peers load their schedules with APs and honors courses. Seeing a lot of my classmates load their schedules motivated me to take harder classes, though I tried to take only ones I thought I could manage.  

In whatever class that I manage to succeed in, it always feels like just luck and rarely because of my own capabilities. 

Every time I take a test, especially in one of my harder classes such as AP U.S. History, if I do well, I can never figure out why I actually did well. I constantly question my ability to succeed the next time another test comes around, which just raises my stress levels every time there’s a test. Seeing my friends have their study strategies figured out and get consistently successful results on these harder tests makes me ask myself, “What am I doing in this class?” 

I have found Imposter Syndrome to be downright harmful. I have little to no confidence whenever I walk into a test because I have always felt that whenever I succeed, it is only because I was lucky. Imposter’s Syndrome has applied to me beyond test taking. When I used to play piano and I had to compete for something, if I ever did well or managed to make a cut for an audition, I felt that it was because I was lucky and not because I was skilled at playing. 

Having the right mindset when doing something challenging is important, but Imposter Syndrome ruins my mindset. It gives me less confidence in my ability to succeed. 

Even though I sometimes feel dumb at this school, I’m also in a decent position. Though my grades aren’t the best, I’m taking classes at one of the most academically rigorous high schools, so classes are naturally going to be harder. However, I feel like teachers here can do more to help students feeling inferior and stressed out. 

Just simply telling students that they are doing fine and that they will be fine would be nice. Not enough teachers give that sort of reassurance to their students. 

There’s also ways that I have used to get over Imposter Syndrome. 

An article by Gill Corkindale in the Harvard Business Review has these simple steps for getting through Imposter Syndrome that I found helpful. 

The first step is recognizing those feelings of inadequacy when they emerge because being aware of those feelings prompts you to deal with changing them. Whenever I feel like I succeeded at something because I just happened to be lucky that time, I realize that it is Imposter Syndrome creeping up in my mind. 

The next step is to change the mental outlook that you don’t deserve success or that you’re a failure into the mindset that failure is OK and that you grow from it. Releasing feelings associated with Imposter Syndrome is important, as it is never healthy to keep such negative feelings bottled up. For me, talking to my friends about Imposter Syndrome and having people to relate helps a lot. 

The final step is self-care: Don’t bash yourself too hard if you fail and remember that you deserve success. 

I am slowly starting to realize that, for who I am and what I can accomplish, I am doing just fine. All of these steps are teaching me to accept who I am as a person and to focus on winning the battle known as junior year.

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