Imposter syndrome: A high school pandemic

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“Find the antiderivative of cot(x).” The rhythmic rasp of the chalk quickens your pulse as you watch your teacher surround you with practice problems along the classroom walls. Sitting in a rigorous class following more than a year of remote learning, you witness your classmates solving problems you find difficult with ease. A storm of self doubt and a lack of confidence surges over you, making you feel like an absolute fake. A complete alien. This is imposter syndrome. The Classic spoke to Harrisites as they shared their own experiences with this phenomenon.

“I think Harrisites experience this because of the high academic expectations that we feel are placed on us,” junior Rachel Chen said. “I think during freshman year and currently as a junior I’ve had occurrences with it. Mainly triggered by constantly comparing yourself with others and social anxiety.”  

For many, imposter syndrome is the feeling in which you don’t belong where you are. According to a 2019 research paper published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, as high as 82 percent of people may experience imposter syndrome. Instead of having confidence in their merits, those who experience these feelings of inadequacy often credit their accomplishments to luck as the sole reason for their success. 

Sophomore Zara Islam said that “given the competitive environment of gifted students at Townsend Harris, it can be easy to feel like you are not as good as other people in a specific skill. However, I strongly believe that all people have different strengths and weaknesses.” 

Similarly, senior Ashley Wu said, “When you are put into this environment where you are constantly surrounded by all these brilliant people, it’s common to feel like comparing yourself.” 

Post-pandemic, some students expressed that their experiences with imposter syndrome had been exacerbated by the competitive stressors of reintegrating into an in-person academic setting. Junior Raine Wu said, “I experienced imposter syndrome in Junior year because a lot of my classmates were coming out of the pandemic stronger than before. I thought I didn’t match up to Townsend standards anymore because I couldn’t bounce back as quickly as the others.” 

For seniors, Ashley highlighted the acute pressure of college admissions that heightens feelings of self-doubt. “With college applications and everything there are people who are getting into really good schools and ivy leagues and that’s understandable,” she said. “Their own successes and their own intelligence is not really comparable to mine, I feel like I’m very comfortable with my intelligence and I have an okay perception of myself.”   

“A piece of advice would be to just take a breath and look at it objectively. See for yourself the time and effort you put into an assignment,” freshman Xintong Jiang said. “Pretend that you’re someone else looking in and be proud of yourself. If you tried your hardest, then nothing else should really matter.”

Photo by Aurelia Liu