How do I deal with imposter syndrome?

A student wrote to me, asking:

How do I deal with imposter syndrome? I’ve been doing pretty well in many aspects of my life recently (this wasn’t the case in the past) and I just feel I’m actually not worthy of all this or soon I’ll just stop being successful. I know I’m putting in more effort now which could be why I’m doing well. But at the same time, I just feel very insecure nowadays.

I think this experience is very common, and it’s something we will encounter every time we step into a new role or responsibility. I feel that way each time I take on a new task, and my TAs can attest that they feel that way at the start when they first became TAs.

There are two issues I do wish to address:

(1) Firstly, when we’re new to something, we don’t identify ourselves as one of “them,” the pros who have been around for longer and who seem to do better than us. It’s good to model yourself after them, but they’re really not the right benchmarks to compare with. I say this because you don’t have the same level of experience as they do. So if you keep benchmarking yourself against them, you will always feel not good enough, and it becomes harder for you to see yourself as one of “them,” thereby prolonging the feeling that you are an imposter.

What’s more important is to learn to settle into your role and take credit for all your little successes, big and small, especially the small ones. Aim to be excellent in the tasks and responsibilities given to you. As you do this well, your team mates or colleagues will begin to rely on you more. This will make you feel more integrated into the team, and you’ll soon feel like you have become one of them.

(2) Of course, everything I said earlier can be undermined if you have a low self-esteem or are unnecessarily harsh on yourself. Truly, we are our worst enemies. We work so hard to get so far, and once we’ve made it, we start to tell ourselves we are not good enough. That’s really not a nice thing to do to yourself.

I want to share with you an advice a friend shared with me the other day: “You are your own friend. So, don’t say things to yourself that you would never say to your friends.” We can be really mean to ourselves and say very discouraging and even hateful things. That’s not healthy, and it’s important that we learnt to be kind and patient with ourselves the way we are to our friends. Once we do this, we can begin to appreciate the good that we’ve achieved by our own effort.

So tell yourself what I’ll say to you: Well done! I’m proud of you. Keep up what you’re doing. I’m sure you’ll continue to do well. :)

Do you have any thoughts on love and relationships in general?

A student wrote to me:

Sometimes it seems like others are finding love so easily, whereby the person they like is also single and/or just so happens to like them back. For me, such incidences of fate have never materialised and I wonder how some just have it so easy. No real question, just wondering. Do you have any thoughts on these sentiments/love in general.

Here’s my reply:

I totally feel you! I was once in your shoes for a very long time. I had been friend-zoned a couple of times, and on one occasion, I confessed to a girl, and she rejected me on the grounds that I’m of a different socio-economic class (that was so WTH!).

Looking back, I realised now that I had missed the subtle advances of some girls back in my teenage/young adult life. I was just totally oblivious to it. I think a lot of us are oblivious to noticing the subtle advances of others.

Well, to be fair, confessing and taking the friendship to the next level is a high stakes game. Both guys and girls are incredibly afraid and anxious about it: What if I get rejected, what then becomes of this friendship? And because both parties are often so afraid, none dare to make any obvious moves for fear of rejection.

So let me share with you an advice I got when I was in NS, and it is advice that helped me a lot. If you are interested in a person, but unsure whether that person likes you, treat every non-negative response as a sign that he/she is interested in you. If you ask the person to hang out with you and the person didn’t say no, that’s a good sign. If you said you wanted to initiate a phone call and the person didn’t say no, that’s a good sign. If the person messages you or initiates outings, even better – that’s a really really good sign of interest! Over time, the more you think this way, the more confident you will become around that person. And confidence is an incredibly charming and attractive quality.

Nothing screams – “MARRY ME AND GENERATE SPAWNLINGS WITH ME!!!!!” – more than confidence. You can be fugly as hell but if you have confidence as great as Mount Everest, people will still be incredibly attracted to you. This statement is true for both males and females. If you don’t believe me, when COVID is over and we don’t need to wear masks anymore, go sit at a cafe and watch the world go by, i.e. people watching. There’s a lot of unattractive people who are very much in loving relationships. You might wonder how that’s possible, or disapprove of their coupling because it looks like a live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. But hey, they’re happy because all they need is that one person to be attracted to them: their partner.