What Is Success?
Being Confident in Your Own Abilities
Starting university whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert (or anywhere in the middle), undoubtedly removes you from your comfort zone. My first experience at University of Warwick was relatively smooth, the people in my accommodation were friendly, I was able to navigate myself around campus without any difficulties, and I was happy with the modules I’d picked for my course.
The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the feeling of being an outsider. This wasn’t down to anything about the course itself or the staff, my confidence just completely disappeared. One thing which had always been at the back of my mind was the knowledge that my course is considered an elitist subject, and with that reputation came a certain expectation.
History of Art taught in schools and A-Levels is (on the whole) a subject for private institutions. As I’ve only ever gone to state schools for my education, the range of my knowledge of art and the history behind it was limited to my own experience from practical art A-Levels and information that I taught myself outside of school/college. When I applied to the course, never at one point did I feel I was underprepared or at a disadvantage. I had an interest in the subject anyway, so I did my own research at home and my EPQ was based on art history, but I was not prepared for the sudden unignorable feeling of not being intelligent enough or deserving of a place in the university. I felt considerably less intelligent than my peers and started to feel stupid for thinking I could do the course in the first place.
Imposter syndrome was new to me and if you’re like me, it takes a lot to get out of your own head. What started as a small thought at the back of my mind, gradually manifested itself into something that was actively limiting my abilities. Speaking in front of people became incredibly difficult (not that it was that easy to begin with) and the idea of sharing my ideas became ridiculous – there wasn’t one opinion I had that felt original or worth talking about because of my fear of not looking clever enough in front of my peers. Experiencing this also brought out the perfectionist in me, I have been described as a perfectionist in the past, however this time it was stopping me from continuing with everyday tasks. I became obsessed with the layout of my notes to the point where I could be three, four, or five A4 pages into my revision and if a word looked out of place or the size of my handwriting changed, I would start from the very beginning – making revision a much more difficult and mentally draining task.
It’s not something that has completely gone and I’m still training myself to change the way that I think and perceive success but if you’re dealing with something similar, here are a few tips to try to minimise the self-doubt…
- Create smaller, more achievable goals – one of the biggest triggers of imposter syndrome is the disappointment of not achieving large goals. In order to combat this try to set yourself smaller day-to-day goals. For me (and my history with social anxiety), getting through one seminar is a win for me as it’s something I used to take for granted. Another small achievement is saying at least one thing per seminar, it doesn’t have to be revolutionary but even if it’s the most obvious thing, then it’s something.
- Spend more quality time with friends – alongside imposter syndrome can also come social anxiety. In my case it was the other way round, I was diagnosed with social anxiety during my mid-teens and it was the transition from A-Levels to university that triggered the start of imposter syndrome. Spending more time with the people around you who make you comfortable and valued is a sure way of building back up your confidence in social situations.
- Stop comparing yourself to others – this is a really common thing that everyone does at university, we’re all looking for validation and assurance that we’re doing the right thing. But it’s important to acknowledge that everyone learns at different speeds, in different ways, and everyone has different capabilities. This is one of the biggest things for me to overcome as it naturally takes me a while to retain information and apply it in things like essays etc.
- Accept small setbacks – if you end up receiving an essay grade that’s lower than your previous essay, this does not mean you have completely forgotten everything you know. Essays are demanding activities, they require a lot of focus and if our brains aren’t cooperating or feeling motivated then it’s incredibly difficult to create something of a high standard. Allow yourself to say that it has happened, analyse your feedback and use it to your advantage.