Dear First Years,
I’ve now been at CMC for a month and a half. I can still vividly remember the very first day I spent at CMC during international orientation. At dinner, I was sitting with a group of future econ majors, zoning in and out of the conversation about the stock market or some such thing I knew nothing about. I was wondering if the dining hall food at Collins would be better than the food at Frary we were eating when I checked back in to hear the group talking about what they all had done over the summer. I was shocked to hear a fellow first year talking about how they had spent the summer interning at some impressive finance firm that I, a rare non-econ major, had never heard of. When it was my turn to talk about my summer, I suddenly felt ashamed of my mediocre summer coffee shop job, and only one thought crossed my mind: “I am not cut out for this.”
There is a concept called “impostor syndrome,” which perfectly sums up how I felt that day at dinner. Impostor syndrome describes the inability to accept your success and accomplishments due to feeling like a fraud. Even though there may be clear indicators of your competence, you will strongly believe that you somehow don’t deserve the success you’ve earned. At CMC, this generally translates to feeling as though you don’t belong, despite the hundreds of times you’ve glossed over your acceptance letter. I felt it when I first came here and still feel it now, and so do hundreds of other first years. If you’re reading this, you’re not alone.
Sage Young ‘21 echoed this, saying “[when I first came to CMC] I thought people here worked a lot harder and were a lot smarter than me. Everyone puts on a front that they have their life together and are doing all this cool and important stuff, while I struggle to get to classes and meals on time.” I think the key word there is “front.”
After experiencing a year at CMC, Kira Weiss ‘20 had some insights on this. “At the beginning, you only see what people want you to see,” said Weiss. “Everyone was at the top of their high school and is used to being the best. People get competitive when they realize that they’re not [at the top] at CMC.”
Naseem Nazari ‘21 has also experienced impostor syndrome, especially when comparing herself to sophomores and upperclassmen. She stated that “seeing everything they’ve done and how well they’re doing in school kind of freaks me out and makes me wonder if I’ll be able to execute the same.” Nazari noted that the cause of this feeling is “seeing other people’s accomplishments, which makes me wonder if I am as competent.”
Young noted that his impostor syndrome is caused by “having conversations with people, even my FYGs who are all super smart and are involved in everything. They are superstars!”
It seems clear that suffering from impostor syndrome is an inevitable outcome of living the CMC lifestyle and being surrounded by all the driven and ambitious students that CMC attracts. However, there are ways to cope. In order to cope with impostor syndrome during her first year, Weiss had to make an effort to realize that everyone is here for a reason. “There are no ‘dumb people’ at CMC,” she said. “As cliche as it sounds, admissions officers don’t really make mistakes.”
Nazari and Young also had insights to share for next year’s first years. “It’s important to learn to focus on yourself,” Nazari said. “Everybody has different strengths. Other people’s success isn’t a measure of the legitimacy of your own.” Young would recommend the following thought process that he has employed: “Because I have this perceived assumption or idea of people doing everything and being really successful, I feel like I need to catch up with them. So I use other people’s success as motivation.”
If you are experiencing impostor syndrome like so many first years before you have experienced and future first years will experience, know you’re not alone. When you feel it at its worst, just remind yourself of Weiss’s words, that “people only see what they want you to see,” heed Young’s sage advice to use “other people’s success as motivation,” and like Nazari, know that “other people’s success isn’t a measure of the legitimacy of your own.” By doing this, you’ll be well on your way to overcoming your impostor syndrome. I am no longer ashamed of that coffee shop, for I have now learned that dozens of other first years had similar jobs over the summer. Besides, I have plenty of time to intern and work at fancy firms that future first years will never have even heard of.
Shanil Verjee ’21