Tackling Imposter Syndrome at Pomona College

By Hayeon Lee ‘23

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong in an environment where everyone else seems more capable? More at home?

When you begin to feel the icky feelings of Imposter Syndrome, know that you are not alone.

logo of NCCEP with student with mortarboardDuring the summer of 2020, I had the pleasure of interning for the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships as a Communications Intern. In an article I wrote for their membership page, “Tackling Imposter Syndrome,” I shared ways I manage my imposter syndrome as a first-generation, low-income student. I thought that it would be very helpful to share some of that content here, in a Pomona College setting, where I know some of us struggle with this feeling on a daily basis.

Before Pomona College, I attended The Hotchkiss School, an elite preparatory boarding school in New England on a full scholarship. As a first-generation, low-income student, who attended an inner-city middle school, I always felt out of place and unworthy of being at my high school. Whether it be speaking up against my predominately white classmates or even interacting with faculty and students in clubs and extracurricular activities, there was always a nagging voice in my head that constantly whispered that I did not deserve to be in a fill-in-the-blank location or a fill-in-the-blank leadership position. I was just another poor student who they just happened to notice. I just happened to be there at the right place and time.

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation logoWhen discussing my feelings with my Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholar advisor Yoon Chan, he gave a name to this icky feeling: “Imposter Syndrome.” Once I realized what I was feeling and that it was common among students who come from similar backgrounds as mine, I realized that I had to overcome these feelings to prove society wrong.

Here are some strategies that I utilize to cope with imposter syndrome, especially in a Zoom setting, where one could feel isolated and alone.

student pointing at the viewer with confidenceTip 1 – Accepting my talents

One of the values that has been instilled into me, coming from a Korean immigrant household, is the importance of being humble: a value that is still a core part of me. However, when struggling with imposter syndrome, there was a line where my desire to be “humble” developed into self-depreciation and self-doubt. When people stated “good job” or “you’re so good at ___,” I felt that they were lying to my face. I realized that I needed to sit down, accept compliments, and recognize what my talents were. I had to retrain my brain to believe that accepting my talents and abilities was not an act of arrogance.

Tip 2 – Separating feelings from fact

This tip is similar to the first tip. When things aren’t going my way–whether a professor shot down my comment or I didn’t do an assignment well in my internship–I had the tendency to break down and say: I suck, and I don’t belong. However, to stop this negative loop, I now sit down and ask myself: Do I suck, or did I just make a mistake? By separating feelings from facts, I can look at a situation from an unclouded point of view.

Tip 3 – Setting Goals

Often, there is a moment where day-to-day routines in the academic grind become monotonous. As a college student, there were many times during the past semester, when I felt like I was running to complete an assignment, then the next, and the next. These moments were when I felt as though I was losing sight of the bigger picture: why was I pursuing higher education? Then, imposter syndrome kicked in. By setting goals, reminding myself of why I was attending college, and why I wanted to pursue graduate studies, I was able to feel confident and as though I had a direction in which I was running.

screenshot of unmute and start video buttons on zoomTip 4 – Unmuting and Speaking 

In a Zoom setting, it is easy to keep yourself muted due to the fear of being wrong or just the fear of talking through a device; as an introvert, I definitely feel this. However, there are also moments when I have thoughts and ideas that I would like to share, but (A) I either get spoken over, or (B) I feel as though my thoughts are not as worthy as my classmates’. Recently, I have been encouraging myself to assert my presence and ask to speak, as well as have greater confidence in my intellectual abilities through sharing my thoughts and ideas in class.

Tip 5 – Relying on mentor and teachers

I also have supportive mentors and friends in my Jack Kent Cooke community, my college community, and my family. Without these people affirming my existence and constantly cheering me on, I would not have been able to be where I am at now and wish for something bigger. Having this support system is essential for students like me, and it may be the make-or-break for a student to feel confident in entering and getting through college. I encourage you to reach out to others and see how you could build your group or your support system in this slightly weird Zoom setting.

Feel free to reach out to me, and ask me any questions. Know that you’re not alone in your college journey and that there are people who are cheering you on as you reach for academic success.