The Internship Diaries, Part Two: Imposter Syndrome

**this entry is framed as a letter to my younger cousin, A. As she enters adulthood and the gap between us slowly gets smaller, I wanted to be able to let her see that certain experiences are common to everybody and in some ways, part and parcel of growing up. **

*in order to protect her privacy, this entry does not use her name*

Dear A,

I began my internship barely a week after graduating college. From the top of the undergraduate food chain to the bottom of the employee ladder was a sudden change to make, especially when I found that my first day began with the new full-time employees, most of them with work experience in big-name companies, others with shiny new MBAs. While the company did hire interns, I barely met any in my time there, and the ones I did meet were all in the middle of their MBAs too.

So of course, some thoughts crept in from time-to-time. Thoughts saying that I didn’t deserve to be there or that there was little I could add to this pool of clever, talented, experienced people. I knew they were a little ridiculous, but also these thoughts weren’t exactly new to me. Because I’d been thinking them my whole life.

As a child, I realized early on that some people were born with certain advantages and some people weren’t. I had been lucky, I had been born with a number of advantages. It made me feel grateful, but very often, it also made me feel guilty. I hadn’t done anything to deserve the luck of being offered music lessons, so I refused them. I wanted to continue karate when I advanced to my blue belt, but as I hadn’t earned the money for it myself, I never brought it up except as a throwaway wish. In my head I reasoned that there were several expenses my parents were bearing for me already and the least I could do was help out. 

Sometime in the last parts of high school, and post many, many, many re-reading of Jane Austen’s “Emma” (which, by the way, is a brilliant read when you’re feeling down in such ways) that I came up with a new motto:

“So what?”

Because to all of us, constantly under the shadow of imposter syndrome, that’s all there is to say. Yes, most of us probably don’t entirely deserve the good fortune heaped on us, whether it be a prize at a fair, a certain friend or romantic partner or a job opportunity. There are many factors involved; genetics, luck, timing.

But to all that, I’ve tried to learn how to say, “So What?” In reality, that is possibly the only thing we can say. Imposter syndrome is something we’ll all possibly face until we’re old and gray, and even then we’ll probably worry that we’re not approaching old age correctly. However, you can’t quit life. Living in a constant state of suspended animation because you think you deserve to go no further benefits nobody, not you as a person who thinks that that’s all they deserve, or any person who may or may not be better than you. 

Sometimes, you have been chosen over other people, people who are perhaps better than you are.  But here’s the key part: you’ve been chosen too. Sure, it could have something to do with luck. But if it does, why not accept that luck and prove the selection to be a wise one? Rarely is any great act brought about solely by luck, it’s what you do with that luck that makes you stand out. Uncle Ben didn’t lie when he said great power is great responsibility. In cases of imposter syndrome, it’s just a matter of realizing the potential of that responsibility. 

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However, there is of course another part to this story we tell ourselves of being undeserving. Rarely in any case have any of us been rewarded for solely sitting in a cushy chair and staring into space. We’ve all utilized the 24 hours given to us in a day and while it may not always seem like it, results usually show it. There may be a guy who volunteers at a puppy shelter and plays the piano and runs cross-country in his spare time. Your achievements may include doodling in your spare time and dissecting the musicians of the ‘70s. However, at the end of the day what someone will always look for is you and how you best spent your time being you. At this point, most of us know what the results can be when several people with the same backgrounds, thoughts and tastes gather to make decisions. Moreover, I’m sure you know what it’s like to have someone around who agrees with you 100%. While flattering at first, it can get rather irritating in the long run, when you can predict a response to any statement and it usually coincides with your own. It’s the flux of similarities and differences, shaped by backgrounds, tastes and personal inclinations that makes us ourselves and therefore interesting.

You are interesting. Mostly because you’re you and that makes you interesting all on your own.

 

Love,

Simran