Woe Is Me! “I Feel Like a Fraud. How Do I Stop This Self‑Confidence Spiral?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I’m a high school senior who’s giving competitive exams. Everyone has very high expectations from me due to coaching ranking and score, but over the last few months, I’ve been feeling like a fraud. The score on the paper looks like it belongs to anyone but me; my self-confidence is going down and I’m finding it hard to live every day normally because of the expectations everyone has from me. I feel like a failure even when others don’t feel that way. What should I do?“
— Not a phony
DR: Welcome to the world of impostor syndrome! I read somewhere that if your immediate environment — be it your peer group or your family — values achievements above all else, it makes you more vulnerable to feel like an impostor. Reading your woe makes me feel that applies to you. Perhaps, trying to attach lesser value to you family’s expectations, or not trying to be perfect all the time could help? I’ve found those things generally helpful, too — not just in terms of dealing with impostorism. But, then again, I don’t quite know the exact way to exorcise it. Depending on how much it’s getting in the way of your self-esteem, or impacting the things you care for, you can consider seeking help from a therapist. If you depend on your parents for monetary needs and they don’t believe in “mental health” like many Indian parents (I may be projecting, though; sorry) perhaps, you can tell them you want to see a counselor help you deal with external expectations better, and ensure the pressure doesn’t get in the way of your achievements. Alternatively, you could try looking for therapists who have been offering their services for free since the pandemic began. In the meantime, would it help to know you’re not alone? You’re in good company, in fact — Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and Lady Gaga are a part of this club too!
PB: Hey, I can empathize — students who are part of this incredibly toxic competitive exam culture are under way too much pressure, and it really takes a toll. I’m assuming you spend most of your time studying and in coaching classes, which is ridiculously demanding. A culture that prioritizes marks and excellence above all, can make you feel like an imposter — and leave you feeling like none of it is actually up to you. Your intelligence is a credit to you, most definitely.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be a problem I can try to solve, but, perhaps, I can offer some words of comfort. There’s so, so much more to life than academics — but I get that most parents do not understand that. If your parents are amenable and you feel like you can speak to them, please let them know that you feel this pressure. Maybe you can find a way to make your current life better together. If not, I can only offer the promise of hope — a hopeful future of independence, and a chance to find a new way of life on your terms.
But I sincerely hope you and your family can find a way to keep the balance in your life. Academics are important, but so is everything else. Have some chai, maybe? With lots of ginger!
RN: Clearly you’re not failing at all! The competitive exam system is designed to suck the life and soul out of everyone regardless of their performance. If you feel disassociated from your results, it’s okay. If you feel like a fraud, think of it as faking it until you make it. All this is so illusory that if you accept your emotional reality rather than trying to fight it, you may eventually come to a place of peace. Competitive exams are a short phase in people’s lives and before long, you’ll be through with this cycle and can actually pause and slow down. It’s temporary, and you’re nearly at the finish line.
SM: You are not alone. A lot of young people today struggle with imposter syndrome and find it difficult to believe in their capabilities. Ironically, this feeling of being an imposter becomes worse when you’re getting positive feedback. I know it can be hard to deal with being a high school student who’s giving competitive exams, but it can be a formative moment when you change your relationship with your capabilities and confidence. I’d strongly suggest beginning to seek therapy in whatever form is accessible to you. The most important way to work through this is to talk about your feelings and emotions, and overcome them.