It took me two years to read my UC Berkeley acceptance letter. Two years to get past the initial “Congratulations,” a simple greeting that for so long felt unreal and undeserved. Of course it was exciting at first, but my pride quickly dissipated. As I refolded the letter and placed it back in the envelope, I convinced myself that I had slid through a crack in the system — that my student ID and CalCentral account were the result of a mistake.
I was the impostor who couldn’t even read beyond the first sentence of her admission. At least I thought I was. I am not.
Before starting college, I assumed impostor syndrome was a disease brought on by poor performance. With symptoms that included feeling guilty, misplaced and unworthy, I was surprised to discover that my experience would be fueled by a lack of passion and the fear of failure. But that’s not to say my subpar grades didn’t contribute to my feelings of inadequacy.
During freshman year, I quickly fell behind the pack, tugging at the bottom of every curve and lowering the class mean in all of my required courses. For the first time in my academic career, I was below average. I didn’t recognize myself.
My reality was not the case of the expert who had finally been dealt a bad hand. Instead, I was the amateur who did not even know the rules of the game — every move I made was in fear of disqualification, every D and F one step closer to not passing.
I was no longer the girl recognized for her intelligence; instead, I was stifled by the accomplishments of those around me. I felt incompetent and with time, it seeped into my identity, into every corner of self-worth.
However, what scared me most was how every one of my peers seemed interested in what they were studying, stressed because they truly cared. I was not worried about performing well, because frankly, I was not invested in my success. I was a knockoff among aisles of authenticity.
I stood out on my walks home from class when I turned down Telegraph Avenue to go home, while my classmates started towards libraries soaking in studies I couldn’t be further away from. I sat in the back of my classes, avoided every sign-up sheet and club table to not be identified as the impostor.
It was not until the end of my second year at UC Berkeley, after semesters of doubt, that I began to recognize I was not a mistake. That acceptance letter was not a misprint and my application had not slipped through the cracks.
I learned to look through a different lens, to focus on facts without distortions of insecurity or doubt. And this is the hard truth: We are not here to understand our role immediately.
We are here to enter a world of possibility, to be an impostor and welcome the stranger. And, one day, the foreigner will become the native, as the poser becomes the prototype.
After all that time, it turned out that feeling misplaced in my classes did not translate to being an impostor. The moment I let that wall of doubt fall, I had time to discover my interests without the overwhelming fear of incompetence. I wish I had known sooner to use my shame as a motive to unearth a UC Berkeley where I could confidently belong.
Yes, I still have bad days when I can’t help but question my qualifications. I have classes that make me feel inferior and students who I am jealous of, but it does not dictate my college experience.
On those bad days, I think about the letter, embossed with the UC Berkeley seal, parchment dipped in words of possibility from corner to corner. I remember tearing through the envelope and opening it to find a future I worked so hard for.
I was proud — UC Berkeley believed in me. The least I can do now is believe in it, believe in its judgment and choose to address that envelope and this opportunity to me. I have learned to accept that, unlike many of the roads in the city of Berkeley, this one is a two-way street.