Oxford students are pictured matriculating in 2003.

The many faces of impostor syndrome

We hear the term ‘impostor syndrome’ a lot at Oxford. For most people, it describes feeling out of place or feeling like you do not deserve to be somewhere because maybe before you became used to being the smartest in your school or class, but now you are around people who may be more prepared to tackle all the reading or have learnt some of the things you are learning already.

Most of the advice for this is to just sort of ‘click your heels’ and tell yourself you do belong, and it will happen; I soon learnt that this was not going to work for me. Being the only black person in my year studying music was initially very difficult for me and at times still is, but I am growing more comfortable in my space every-day.

Following my experience at the open-day I was very scared about being judged by people, lot of the time I just felt like I wanted to dissolve into the walls and become invisible. What I realised is that for some people, affirming to themselves that they deserve to be somewhere is really helpful, but it does not work for everyone.

I found it hard to believe myself and to believe others when they told me that I deserve to be at Oxford. I think that ‘impostor syndrome’ is multi-layered; for many people who have been high-achievers all their lives it is a matter of renewing your mindset and reconciling in your mind that you are not going to be the best at everything- doing this definitely helped me.

There is however another layer.

For some, it is apparent, when we hear about incidents at the Union, walk past a statue of Cecil Rhodes or are made to sing ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ in lectures, that the spaces we are occupying were not built with us in mind and it does not mean that we do not deserve to be in those spaces, but that it might take us longer to feel safe in those spaces or to stop worrying about what I thought people were thinking about me and enjoy all the things that made me apply in the first place.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons