I am the great pretender (and so are you, probably)

The audience has shown up to the occasion in thousands. A lonely spotlight on Freddie Mercury as he begins to sing, ‘Oh, yes, I’m the great pretender.’

Freddie believed himself to be the greatest pretender of all. He struggled to see his success and achievements as deserved. It is sad to think that someone so talented could think of themselves as nothing more than an imposter.

Imposter syndrome has recently seeped into my everyday conversations without knowledge of its far-reaching tentacles. I first began feeling like an imposter when I arrived at university and the feeling has since stalked my every move like a shadow.

In a study like physics, the hallowed halls of academia are prominent and staggering. My textbooks are filled with the names of gifted and venerable scholars who have pioneered the field of physics and my hopes have always been to do the same. But rather than a goal, when I began studying, it became a burden. My grade is never good enough, because else someone did better. If I am struggling, I’m the fraudster, because others seem to be simply breezing through.

This particular kind of imposter is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but rather a sheep in wolf’s clothing. We still manage to deceive those around us, but not with an ulterior motive like the wolf. In fact, the world might see us as the Wolf of Wall Street before they see the screaming lamb inside.

If we rely solely on academic success for validation, what happens if the safe university bubble bursts?

Imposter syndrome commonly affects high-functioning and high-achieving individuals. Interestingly, it was first observed among successful women and other marginalized groups, particularly in perfectionistic fields.

Perfectionism and imposter syndrome are joined at the hip like Bonnie and Clyde and, left alone, might face similarly disastrous consequences. At university, Bonnie and Clyde become even more volatile. We are thrown into a world where unrealistic goals and accomplishments are not only expected, but celebrated. This breeds contempt. The cycle of performance and praise is not sustainable and harmful to this environment.

True measurement of self-worth should not only be academic achievement. University is supposed to be a safe bubble, but within these very ivy walls I do my best pretending. If we rely solely on academic success for validation, what happens if the bubble bursts? 

My consolation is that, just like Freddie, imposters among us are most often the unlikely suspects. So maybe my fellow physics students are not all breezing through, maybe they feel just like me and maybe they feel just like you.

Bonnie and Clyde might follow me like a shadow, but getting rid of a shadow is easy. All I need to do is shine a light on it.



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