The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

Overachievers fail to recognize accomplishments

Photo by Kristine Cho

Junior Sonya Hu is an enigma. She takes almost all AP classes, has scored a 35 on the ACT, is involved in multiple clubs, is co-captain of the debate team and almost always places at tournaments. Not to mention, she maintains her level of academic brilliance all while balancing a job, an internship and being a supportive friend to those who know her. When her peers bring up these achievements, however, she always brushes them off apprehensively.
I haven’t exactly had any outstanding accomplishments. If I had to choose something, I would probably say something that has to do with debate,” Hu said. “I have a decent record, I suppose. Still, I wouldn’t really categorize any of my accomplishments as great.”
Hu’s inability to truly acknowledge her intellectual opulence is a defining characteristic of a phenomenon known as Impostor Syndrome. Dr. Valerie Young, an internationally recognized expert, speaker and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, says millions of people experience the phenomenon.
“People who feel like impostors have a difficult time internalizing and owning their accomplishments even though there is evidence of accomplishments and abilities — good grades, praise from teachers, awards, getting accepted into a college or honors courses or anything else related to knowledge or abilities,” Dr. Young said. “Instead, they attribute accomplishments to things like luck, timing, personality, like, ‘Everyone raved about my painting just because they like me’, connections, like ‘My parents went to that college,’ or ‘They’re friends with the coach,’ or other creative excuses.”
She explained that all in all, people experiencing Impostor Syndrome worry that others will find out that they are not as bright or capable as everyone thinks they are. Hu’s opinions of herself certainly do not line up with the opinions of those who know her, like junior Dalton Nunamaker. He has known Hu for four years and shares the same AP U.S. History, debate and AP Language and Composition classes with her.
“In terms of academics, she is incredible,” Nunamaker said. “She’s definitely the hardest working and I would probably say the smartest person I’ve ever gotten to work with.”
Nunamaker admires Hu’s work ethic, academic passion and attention to detail. But every time he tries to make her aware of that, she completely rejects his flattery. Hu describes herself as being of average intelligence and not having accomplished anything groundbreaking during her lifetime.
Although she feels appreciative when receiving flattery, she also feels uncomfortable and that such comments are inaccurate. If anything, she usually feels that compliments highlight the areas in which she lacks knowledge or talent.
“All [of my] so-called accomplishments and achievements have been relatively mundane and don’t necessarily demonstrate a ‘superior’ intellect,” Hu said. “I do think that people perceive me as being smarter than I actually am. For example, I don’t believe that I have the qualifications to be interviewed for this feature [story]. I am not an ‘intelligent person who pretends not to be,’ but instead just an average person who has the title of ‘intelligent’ impressed upon them. Also, oftentimes in class, people will ask for my advice even though I feel as though I don’t know enough about the topic to provide insightful comments.”
Although such behaviors associated with Impostor Syndrome may seem odd, they are not uncommon, especially among girls and women. Dr. Young says men, particularly those who are first generation college students or professionals, can and do also feel like impostors. The phenomenon is also more likely to be present among men if they are from racial minorities, working in a country outside of their native culture or working in the creative field. She mentioned actor Mike Myers, who once said, “At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.”
Women, however, are much more likely to develop Impostor Syndrome than men for multiple reasons, the main one being that women are more inclined to blame themselves for failures, mistakes and criticisms than men are.
“As a ‘genderalization,’ males are more likely to think the reason they failed a test is because the teacher didn’t give them enough time to study or the test was unfair,” Dr. Young said. “This is a problem because if someone admits they didn’t study hard enough, then the solution next time is to study harder. However, if you think the reason you failed is that you just can’t do math or aren’t as talented as other people what’s the solution?”
Dr. Young mentioned that women are also more likely to take criticism personally; so if for example a manager says, “That report was inadequate,” they hear, “I’m inadequate.”
Hu almost always seems to express feelings of inadequacy when receiving praise, and Nunamaker has taken notice.
“She assures me that she’s not as accomplished as she clearly is and that she isn’t good enough,” Nunamaker said. “From what I’ve read about [Impostor Syndrome], she definitely has it. I believe the way she can succeed at such a high level in everything she does and not accept any praise or congratulations for it is telling.”
Despite the fact that Impostor Syndrome negatively impacts those who have it and is an indicator of low self-esteem, Dr. Young says it’s not a serious mental health issue.
“People who don’t feel like impostors are no more capable, competent or talented than people who do,” Dr. Young said. “The only difference between them and us is they think different thoughts — that’s it. That’s really good news because we can learn to think like non-impostors.”

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  • A

    Alexis WalkerNov 7, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I think that some students do want to accept compliments about their achievement but they just don’t know how to do it. I know lots of people who are smarter than they give themselves credit and whenever someone tries to congratulate them, they shy away from the attention because they may not want to seem self centered.

  • R

    Ruth BNov 6, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    I cannot relate because I consider waking up early and going outside with my dog an achievement. I’m not even close to this level of living. I wish it was easier for these kids to be proud of everything they do because they’re the ones who are making it in life.

  • M

    Maddie MurphyNov 3, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    So many students I know experience the same thing! No one understands how intelligent they really are!

  • B

    Ben KimchiNov 3, 2016 at 10:57 am

    I feel like this could be a solvable problem if schools took more time to praise achievements like Sonya’s. It is interesting to see how something like this can affect people, especially at our own school.

  • J

    Jordan RogersNov 2, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    I never knew that this had a name. I thought it was a bad habit that some kids fall in to.

  • J

    Jadyn LisenbyNov 2, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    I noticed a lot of people that I know have the same feeling as Sonya Hu does in this article. They are very intelligent, hard-working students who put a lot of time into their school work, but don’t have the ability to recognize their achievements. With all of this dedication to self performance, they need to honor their achievements from time to time.

  • P

    Peyton MooreNov 1, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    This really got my attention because it finally put a name to something that a lot of people I know and talk to seem to have. Wonderful article, the details and vocabulary used was great!!

  • R

    Riley JonesNov 1, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    This is pretty relatable for like every AP kid