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Overcoming Failure and the Imposter Syndrome

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Alexa Porter

PHHS ’16, UMich Ross ‘20

Graduating high school brings an onslaught of advice, but one topic that rarely comes up is failure. Whether it be a failed exam, not being accepted into a club, or missing out on an internship, failure will happen at some point in your college career. I’ve experienced all of these more than once and while it’s easy to say that you can learn from your failures (and there are plenty of how-tos and 5-step plans for that); the hard part is dealing with the emotions that come with it. Circling through your mind are thoughts like: Why wasn’t I good enough? I’m the only one who failed! Why didn’t I do what my friend did? I knew I should’ve done that instead!

And perhaps the worst: I don’t belong here.

Failure is an isolating experience in college. My freshman year, I applied to 5 different clubs and professional fraternities and was rejected from every one. I failed a midterm for a required class. Adding this to living in a single by luck-of-the-draw and being from out of state, I felt alone and defeated. Everyone around me was so successful and exceeded expectations in every way; why was I the only one struggling? Why was I even at UMich?

Feeling out of place, I went to class the next week and learned a new term: Imposter Syndrome. That feeling of not belonging and the emotions from failing that I had are so common, that in 1978 a study created the term Imposter Syndrome. It is someone who doubts their accomplishments and fears being exposed as a fraud—as someone who doesn’t belong—despite proof of their success.

That class taught me I wasn’t alone; far from it, in fact. A poll of the 100 students in the class that day showed that nearly every person was experiencing Imposter Syndrome and a few minutes talking showed that we shared the failures that were making me feel like I didn’t belong. One person was rejected from the same club, someone else failed the same midterm as me, and another out-of-state student was having a hard time connecting with people.

Failure and Imposter Syndrome are hard to deal with, especially as you are just starting your college career. We tend to internalize our failures and are reluctant to talk about them, making that loneliness and feeling of inadequacy worse. The key to overcoming these emotions is to remember that you are not alone; everyone around you is struggling with the same problems. If you are willing to be open and talk about it, you can overcome your Imposter Syndrome and even create lasting relationships. There are also people who care about you at home that you can always reach out to for support and encouragement. And above all, remember that you are just starting out; you are going to struggle and mess up sometimes, but if you can have patience and learn to appreciate yourself for who you are and what you can do, you will overcome failure and learn more about yourself along the way!

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