Finding the Imposter Among Us

Graphic courtesy of Erin Sass

“If Kamala Harris can become the Vice President of the United States,” explained my mother, “then what is stopping you?” 

After the Biden-Harris victory, South Asian children everywhere were likely asked the same question. It seems that Harris’ achievement adds to the immigrant-approved list of potential occupations, which now reads something like this: doctor, engineer, lawyer, and Vice President of the United States. Upon her victory, many members of the South Asian community joked that somewhere in the afterlife, Vice President-elect Harris’ mother asks, “only Vice President? Why not the President?” 

..the moment we tell ourselves that we don’t belong in a room, we limit our own potential.

It’s a funny hypothetical, but not completely unbelievable. Many first-generation children grew up this way, feeling as though they are an imposter in a game of Among Us, “faking” their way through tasks and expecting to eventually be “ejected” by their more capable crewmates. Often, these children struggled to meet the insurmountable expectations that their parents held. In a land of opportunity, freedom, and privilege, not capitalising on the advantaged life our parents had carved out for us was simply unacceptable. Feeling like an “imposter” is the core of what imposter syndrome is: high achievers in minority households tend to neglect their success because they chase asymptotic standards that directly correlate with self-worth. 

After leaving a whole life behind, our immigrant parents yearned for stability and safety, which translated into their obsession with medical and law schools. In the grander scheme, it all makes sense: “study hard, land a good job, get married, and have children,” was an air-tight mantra that offered the path of least resistance and high reward. If we know anything about the classic immigrant “American dream” story, it is that their paths were filled with resistance: language barriers, isolation, and financial hardship. Children who score full marks on an English grammar test need not worry about fumbling over their words at the grocery-store checkout. Children who become class president and develop a strong sense of community never need to experience what it’s like to be alone in a country where everyone they cherish is on the other side of an ocean. Those who go to a good university will surely secure a good job and will ultimately bring honour to the family name. These ideas were bulletproof; from an immigrant parent’s perspective, overachievement meant that nothing could permeate into their child’s road to success. 

But what happens when this road is built on imposter syndrome? That is, feeling as though you aren’t good enough to be in a certain position—it could be a university, a job, or even a friendly group dynamic. It’s a damaging mentality to have; the moment we tell ourselves that we don’t belong in a room, we limit our own potential. 

This is the main problem: we think we are alone, that only one imposter lies in this ship. 

Unbeknownst to parents, a culture so narrowly focused on success instills imposter syndrome in their child. On one end, a parent with good intentions tries their hardest to watch their child succeed and flourish into a version of themselves that they could never be. Yet on the other end, their child wonders why their A+ is met with a shrug, while their classmate’s B+ is rewarded with ice cream. When repeatedly told one isn’t good enough by parents with over expectations, one will begin to put this mentality into practice. Every college application is sent with anxiety, discussion posts are clouded with insecurity, and job interviews will never negotiate a deserving salary. Thereon, the cycle continues. An overachiever underachieves and attempts to break this cycle with their own kids: the result of the aforementioned damaging mentality. 

Turning to minorities in positions of power, some may wonder if a woman like Kamala Harris ever feels like an imposter. Her victory holds immense power: as we all know, Harris is the first female, black, and South Asian Vice President-elect. Right now, she sets an important precedent for women of colour everywhere, a weight she must carry with every decision she makes. Surely she, too, was once told she was not good enough. We tend to believe that figures like VP-elect Harris must never worry about commanding a room and taking charge when necessary. We believe they aren’t subject to the same insecurities that we feel, despite being told the same things as a child. This is the main problem: we think we are alone, that only one imposter lies in this ship. 

The truth is, many are on the same journey. Even minorities who weren’t raised to meet incredible standards must work harder for a position than an individual born into more privilege. It exists in STEM fields, where women are underestimated and taken as inferior. In men who feel like frauds because they aren’t “masculine” enough. And if in both cases the individual is a minority, the insecurity runs much deeper. 

The benefit to come out of an interconnected age is that the curtains behind those we perceive as “perfect” can finally come down.

The first step towards self-acceptance has much to do with realising that those extremely successful figures we are often compared to are people, too. French philosopher Michel de Montaigne once wrote in an essay: “Kings and philosophers shit—and so do ladies.” Montaigne broke down the arrogance and sophistication of academia to tell us this truth in plain writing, a quote that remains relevant many years on, and one that many of us fail to realise even though it stands in front of us, blatantly. Our parents often painfully remind us of the successes of untouchable and hard-working figures, sometimes the odd cousin or family friend, yet never reassure us that their highs were built on failure, too. That the Harrises, Pichais, and Nadellas of the world have, at some point, felt the same inadequacies as us. 

Being compared to others is a significant part of imposter syndrome, and in most cases, we are programmed to see the rest of the world as competition. It is understandable, as our parents were catapulted into this competitive world where even the most basic necessities were items that needed to be fought for. The benefit to come out of an interconnected age is that the curtains behind those we perceive as “perfect” can finally come down. Now, with social media and its shifting emphasis on diving into the realities of minorities in the workplace and educational environments, community is far more accessible. Finding Instagram pages that channel these discussions are only a few taps away, housing the deeply relatable content it seems we have been sheltering behind sealed lips for years. This dialogue and its close reach make all the difference between our generation and those before. When the realities of others—and ourselves—become increasingly transparent, we can spend a lot less time becoming dissatisfied. It is why I think this generation will break the cycle, focusing on self-worth over insecurity and boundless competition. 

If I were American, I don’t think there would be anything stopping me from the Vice Presidency. If Kamala Harris can do it, so can I. However, just because the opportunity is there does not mean I must take it: the freedom to choose a path for myself, construct my own road to my version of success, is the best way to engrave that I am enough. 

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