You can’t go to Hopkins without hearing about impostor syndrome. As soon as I accepted my admissions offer from the University, it was like a specter waving at me from the semester to come. The phrase continuously popped up in Reddit threads and prospective student group chats. Upperclassmen warned me that I would sometimes (or often) feel inferior to my classmates, doubt my intelligence and wonder how I ever got accepted in the first place.
They were right.
In the fall of my freshman year, I bombed my first Applied Chem midterm and began doubting every goal and plan I ever made for myself. I entered catastrophe mode. A good GPA is out of the question. I will probably have to give up on being a doctor. Maybe I’m bound to struggle in all Hopkins classes, and I should just cut my losses and transfer to an in-state college. I don’t belong here.
Obviously, I did not take my own advice. Instead, I took my failing grade as a wake-up call. I developed better study habits. I went to office hours and Learning Den. I watched countless YouTube videos on molecular orbitals. I hit the books, hard. And I did well on the next exam. I started feeling like I deserved to be here.
I have had impostor syndrome. I have dealt with it. So, entering my sophomore year, I didn’t expect my feelings of fraudulence to come back with a vengeance. Yet here I am, at the end of my first week of in-person classes, having the same intrusive thought: I don’t belong here.
I feel like the pandemic has sent me 20 steps backward. At the start of my senior year of high school, I desperately wanted to be in college already. I wanted the independence and the ability to create a new version of myself — someone more put-together, social and ambitious. But I don’t know if I can attain her. I don’t know how to act in groups of people. I don’t know how to talk to my professors. I don’t know how to be an adult.
Hopkins students love to complain about, and hyperbolize, how poorly they are doing in their classes. It seems to be a bonding exercise. We fret over upcoming exams and deadlines, calculate the minimum grades we need to pass and commiserate together over our impending dooms. But in my admittedly limited experience, we seem less comfortable sharing our feelings of social ineptitude.
It’s difficult to tell people I feel out of place all of the time. They might think I’m strange, or worse, that it has something to do with them. So I have been “faking it until I make it,” flitting around campus and between friends so the feelings of self-doubt don’t have time to sink in. But when I talk to people, I ramble, fumble around for the right words and feel the incessant need to apologize for oversharing. When I’m called on in class, sometimes my mind goes blank and I give my professor a panicked look. I’ve never been socially graceful, but I don’t think it’s ever been this bad.
I try to be patient with myself because this is my first semester on campus and the isolation of the pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. I attempt to soothe myself with logic. There are plenty of articles out there about quarantine-induced social anxiety. You are adjusting to a new environment. Your response is normal. This says nothing about your worth or whether you deserve to be here.
Sometimes that helps. But I’ve mostly benefited from telling my friends how I feel and hearing that they are going through the same thing, whether I see it or not. One of my professors even addressed pandemic-related stress in her syllabus, saying that none of us are going to be “okay” at all times.
I recognize that there’s a learning curve with all big experiences, and reentering society is no exception. I’m going to continue to forgive myself when I say the wrong thing or speak at the wrong moment. I’m going to shrug off awkward interactions in the elevator with classmates I recognize from Zoom. I’m going to be all right.
Though this is a new kind of impostor syndrome for me, I refuse to believe I can’t overcome it, too.
Abigail Tuschman is a sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. majoring in Writing Seminars. She is the Voices Editor for The News-Letter. Her column documents the ups and downs of her college experience.