Tackling Imposter Syndrome: a Reflection on my Past

​​If I said that I wasn’t embarrassed that I transferred from three different schools and took a gap year to just stay home and be an overall scatter-brain, I would be lying. But I would also be lying if I said that I didn’t need it. Mental illness is something so many college students have to struggle with, and with the cold weather approaching, so is my seasonal affective disorder. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, but the hardest symptom that still stays with me is my imposter syndrome. 

 I feel like I have constantly been followed by this pretentious gaze — where everything in my life needs to be laid out a certain way and I can only settle for the best of the best of what life can offer me. I come from Westchester County where the expectation is to only do what you’re good at, be the best at what you are doing and anyone who digresses was ostracized. In my town, taking a gap year meant that you were either going around traveling the world, or sitting in your parents house “wasting” your life away. 

I was not traveling around the world finding myself. I was doing what I feared most: becoming a townie and being shunned by waspy neighbors. Imposter syndrome always followed me while I was growing up but it wasn’t until I went to college that I really saw it affect me. I was so scared by the peers around me. I didn’t feel like I was on the same level as those around me, like I had faked my way to the top. I constantly switched my major around because I ultimately didn’t feel good enough and moved onto the next. After dropping out of my second school, I was at a crossroad wondering if college was the right choice for me. My whole life it was expected for me to go to college and after feeling like a failure at two, I knew I needed to lay off the pot and rebuild my confidence.

I have been in an on-again off-again relationship with therapy since my freshman year of high school. It was always nice to have someone to talk to, but it wasn’t until my imposter syndrome left me feeling too anxious and unmotivated to do anything – for me to start learning and listening to my therapists. I haven’t silenced all of the voices in my head, and who knows if these feelings will ever truly go away, but I cannot help feeling grateful for the place that I’m at today.

I have been pretty consistent with going to therapy now. I’ve been going for almost two consecutive years and there are still moments where I feel like I wish I could skip. It just feels like I need to fill 45 minutes of air time, but then there are days where the magic happens and a breakthrough is made. I began this healing journey with Lorena, a middle aged woman whose office was bare but brought to life with tasteful decor from the Marshalls/ HomeGoods. We mostly talked about mindfulness and limiting my weed intake, but she also taught me a valuable lesson, I was coming up with ideas of what to do next, but never followed through. Each week she would ask me if I made any moves on my goals and most of the time I would say “I can’t decide.” She explained to me that by not making a choice, I am inherently still making a choice — choosing to do nothing to fix my problems. When I heard that, it was instantly written into my book of life. I didn’t want to stay living at home, I wanted to start my life. Hearing this helped me apply myself to more things like jobs and later school. 

My time ended with Lorena when I moved to New Paltz. Kyle, who I imagine as a NYC circuit gay with an office job, became my new therapist and helped me at the beginning of my transfer. Talking with him is fun and intimidating, but it doesn’t matter because I feel like I’ve learned the most about myself with him. I was at another crossroads. New Paltz was supposed to be a time for me to reestablish Kenny. I was scared of reverting to my past self who got caught in so many wrong crowds. I feel guilty when I can’t successfully spread myself thin. I’ve learned that finding authentic people is necessary for surviving in this world. They energize you and lift you up when you’re down. It takes a lot of work to find these people; you really need to let down any guards and go out of your comfort zones. Also, if there comes a point where things might get too uncomfortable, there is nothing impolite with saying thank you and goodbye. I don’t know why hearing such a simple phrase was able to transform my thinking.   

Dropping out at first felt like a sign that I wasn’t succeeding. My head was filled with so many irrational thoughts like I was never going to be able to live an independent life, but that isn’t true. This is only my second semester here at New Paltz. At my other schools, I would have had nothing to show for myself after a single semester, but here I was able to accomplish so much. I was able to juggle school, a social life, working full time and not completely drowning the entire time. Never in my life did I think I was going to accomplish something so miniscule like writing for my school paper, or even having my own apartment. Sometimes sitting alone in your first apartment, sitting eye level with your cat, is all you need to show you that everything is going to be alright. The future is scary, but instead of facing it with fear, face it with love and the universe will light the path ahead of you.

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