Dodging the frenzy of flyers thrown at us as we scurry through Sproul on our way to our first class, emerging through the coveted Sather Gate, confidently aware that we are now officially “UC Berkeley” students, is when we may naively believe that all our issues are resolved. After surviving the pressure-cooker of high school and making it to an elite institution, we can’t help but pat ourselves on the back.
Yet it’s in those little in-between moments – like during the awkward silences of Golden Bear Orientation or in the impersonal ambience of lecture halls overflowing with more than 300 other bright minds – that we question our belonging. It’s in the first time we fail a midterm or the first time we have to brave the dining hall alone when we wish to hang our heads in hiding. It’s in those first interactions with overachieving geniuses and accomplished prodigies that we begin to have an identity crisis.
Arguably, the first indication that you are truly a first-year UC Berkeley student isn’t just the looming freshman 15 from all those midnight Duffl orders, but rather the flooding feeling of an inordinate amount of inadequacy: Impostor syndrome.
On our 40-minute late-night trek home from class one evening, my roommate asked me what impostor syndrome was. I described it as this persistent feeling of not being good enough, leading to a sense of alienation. As I proceeded to reassure the both of us that there was no way we were experiencing impostor syndrome this early in the game, I couldn’t help but feel like I was trying to deny reality.
The next morning, as if the universe was listening to our conversation, an email from the university appeared in my inbox with the words “impostor syndrome” in its subject line.
Seeing that email hit me with the same sense of dread I feel when my 6:30 A.M. alarm goes off. The email seemed to indicate that impostor syndrome was almost like a rite of passage, an emergence from high school to college.
But now standing here before you, as a wide-eyed, empty-headed first-year student destined to make some silly mistakes, I find an odd comfort in the fact that impostor syndrome is everywhere, and it won’t ever really fade. It’s a fact of life, something we must learn to manage if we want to sit back and enjoy the gifts life has to offer. When college ends, the “real” world begins, and there’s always going to be a person who is brighter, prettier, more accomplished and more experienced. But even then, it doesn’t mean that I’m not capable of achieving amazing things. It’s not a black-and-white world. Not everything is all-or-nothing. It’s helpful to remind myself that life’s fluidity allows us some room for error.
I’m always going to have insecurities. I’m always going to have off-days. I’m always going to question my belonging. But these are just thoughts. I don’t have to accept these thoughts as my reality. After all, they’re just thoughts fluttering in the stream of my consciousness and I can always choose to move forward. All I can do is accept that there will be moments where I’m going to embarrass myself in a lecture hall, eat alone in the dining hall or have an incredibly awkward first conversation with someone. It’s inevitable, and I’ve learned that fighting the inevitable will only cause more issues.
I am who I am, and I stand before you today — with my heart on my sleeve — and embark on this little adventure of being a first-year UC Berkeley student, challenging myself to unconditionally accept who I am, flaws and all. I have to remind myself that I belong in every place I end up in — me being there is rarely due to random chance alone. I have every right to be sitting in this classroom, dining hall or lecture hall as the student beside me. Impostor syndrome may be written in the cards for me, just as it is for virtually every first-year student, but I refuse to internalize the feelings of not being good enough to belong here. At the end of the day, we’re all more than just students at UC Berkeley.