I cried in a bathroom stall during my first week at work.
So picture that: Optimistic, idealistic twentysomething first-time jobseeker gets reality check after taking on an urgent project they have zero ideas about.
I got a wad of paper towels, holed myself up in the middle stall for half an hour and just… sobbed (quietly, ’cause I’ve mastered the art of silently crying myself to sleep).
I stepped out of college thinking my skills and hard work would be enough to wow potential employers. But I’ll be real, that moment was a much-needed reality check.
Even now that I’m actually employed, several months into the job, that feeling still lingers. But at the time, I didn’t know what to call it. I had no idea how to describe it because I felt all these emotions.
There’s discontent with the work I put out. The intimidation with anyone who shows a sliver of initiative on the team. The constant voice nagging inside my head and unnecessarily nitpicking parts of myself that aren’t even issues in the first place. And, oh yeah, overthinking.
Lurking around Reddit however did answer my questions. Apparently it’s impostor syndrome. That odd feeling that you don’t deserve what you have or where you are in life at the moment because of the idea that you only achieved it through sheer dumb luck.
It’s an ugly feeling, and I’d very much love to eject it already.
Impostor syndrome is real, introduced in the late 1970s by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. While their initial study focused on how impostor syndrome affected women, Clance followed it up with a study exploring its impact and even created a test to gauge if someone possibly harbors those feelings.
(A side note, you’re free to use tests like this to understand yourself better but we encourage you to seek professional help rather than self-diagnose.)
Have I ever sought professional help regarding my internal struggles with competence and self-worth? Oh yeah, definitely. A handful of telemedicine and mental health volunteers have heard about my work bathroom mental breakdown story a couple of times.
Am I cured? Hell no. The impostor’s still here, I’ll be honest. Every time I open my work laptop, stare at a blank Google doc or finish the bare minimum of tasks, the impostor lingers, waiting for the next moment self-doubt consumes me before going in for the kill.
Impostor syndrome feeds off thoughts that your success was a game of chance, defined by probability rather than your own talents and skills. Is it gonna go away? I don’t know, but it’s probably a better idea to focus on how I’ll go back to trusting myself and my own abilities every time it decides to kick back in.
And I’m working on it. Maybe all those hours of playing “Among Us” would come in handy, but here’s to us struggling twentysomethings. May our journey plagued with constant overthinking and living up to society’s unrealistic expectations not completely overshadow the talents we actually possess.
Art by Jan Cardasto