Benefits of Impostor Syndrome

My glorious week as an utter impostor.


Impostor Syndrome.

If you’re currently a fresher, the words will have been hurled at you from all angles. Fellows, tutors, and supervisors alike triumphantly toss them out, and just ooze parental understanding as they do it. However, in trying to banish it, they are effectively stealing the one thing that makes Cambridge such a treat. And they would have us believe that the tutorial system is the ‘jewel in the crown’ that is Cambridge. Pah!

Do not let yourselves be fooled. I'm about to offer three little case studies to prove both my impostor status and its surprising perks.

Case Study 1: my inability to actually work.

Any freshers here will be aware that conversation outside lectures, in group chats, and even over a boiling pot of pasta seems always to revolve around reading, almost as if the new ideal tinder bio has shifted from ‘I lift’ to ‘I read’.

My 'study time', on the other hand, involves me sat at my desk, humming 'in the blead midwinter' to myself over and over again, and marvelling at how ladybirds can literally climb up walls. (Like, seriously though: how cool.)

Do I too long to tease out the subtleties of historiographical debate? Absolutely not! I just want to know if Jim really does love Eva as much as he said he did in Chapter 3. I also have no desire to enter the fierce intellectual combat of supervisions yet. All I really want is to be spoon-fed by a teacher again, and have my mother pat me on the head and tell me I’m wonderful. (I am, aren't I?)

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*reading in bed* !! promise !!

Case Study 2: my inability to ride a bike.

Not only have I now missed a full course meeting sat on a patch of grass, with tears tumbling down my cheeks, stubbornly refusing to leave my bike’s side after the lock broke (if there are any objections, just cast your eyes upon the beauty below), but also, after receiving my first piece of academic praise, I experienced such a surge in confidence that I recently decided bikes really should be able to mount curbs with sufficient force applied. (I have now found this not to be the case – for those interested, the bike simply crashes into said curb, hurling its rider somewhat unceremoniously to the ground.)

*Please note a potential side effect of imposter syndrome: compliments can begin to affect judgement and decision making, causing reckless and uninhibited behaviour.*

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Case Study 3: my inability to sing.

My foray into the mindset of the imposter probably reached its peak when I found myself in a really quite wonderful choir. You see, the choir seems to consist almost exclusively of those on a Katherine-Jenkins-style trajectory with stunning voices, an overwhelming knowledge of all things choral, and the odd boyfriend from Scotland – or Homerton, as the case may be. And beside these young protégées now stands the scatty, always inappropriately clad, and timid-voiced being that is me. Yippee.

My first rehearsal saw me lose my music before I’d even left the chapel, get stranded outside the college gates without a key to get in (no amount of worried glances seemed to sufficiently convey my damsel-in-distress status to passers-by), and have a *feminine emergency* that led to an uncomfortable makeshift nappy situation, the feeling of which (I would imagine) resembled that of straddling a small hamster.

Oh, and a combination of excessive chatter, alcohol, and an absent mind meant I was more than slightly reluctant to open my mouth, and on receiving a recommendation that I perhaps open it, I promptly burst into tears, in front of multiple choir members. Yippee!

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live footage of 90% of my day

“But Steph! How could such traumatic experiences possibly constitute something positive?”, I hear you ask. (I’m almost sure no-one is actually asking that, or even considering my tales 'traumatic' but, for the purposes of what I’m about to say, lets presume you are.) Well, my eager readers, you’re quite literally looking at the evidence. You see, although my first week has been a great bundle of tears, in my humble seven days of experience, I’ve discovered that mild trauma generates stories, and traumatic stories generate sympathy, and sympathy leads to friendship.

I mean, it was through bursting into tears at the end of a choir rehearsal that I discovered how spectacularly kind all the people in my choir are. And it was through subjecting large swathes of the Cambridge population to a rather lengthy account of my toils and struggles (which I suppose now includes you, my wonderful readership) that I realised imposter syndrome is far better at bringing us together than a love of reading ever could be.

And there we have it: a sparkly little silver lining to the thunder-cloud of tears that has been my first week.