Maintaining self-confidence at a prestigious university

By Shankari Sureshbabu, Columnist

Unique. I’m from a town called Normal where everyone starkly defends that they’re anything but. Middle school was three years of a group of prepubescent teens all trying desperately to fit in and be like everyone else.

But as we grow older, being like everyone else is looked down upon. Being average or “normal” is not good enough when you know someone smarter, funnier, prettier, better. In a world like this, self-confidence can be hard. Maybe it’s just me, but I constantly feel like I have to compete with all these seemingly perfect people around me.

In a TedxUIUC talk on Saturday at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, actress Dr. Cecilia Suarez talked about how she had struggled with this for the better part of her life, even into adulthood.

She said she felt the need to prove, even to the ones she was closest to, that she was a loyal friend. Self-validation is not needing that external confirmation of worth, but this can be difficult to achieve in a crowd.

Suarez explained how she thought all her words and actions indicated her worth as a person, and that she later learned how wrong this attitude was. Instead, she recommended a “lean back” approach, where your actions are not tied to your concept of identity and a negative response won’t leave you shattered.

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    This has been a particular problem I have dealt with in college thus far. On a campus of 40,000, it’s nearly impossible to stand out, and around every corner seems to lurk a hidden genius or teenage prodigy. I felt like I was surrounded by these unbelievably talented people and I suddenly didn’t know if I deserved to be by their sides. It was like I had tricked them into liking me, and I was scared someone would figure out my ruse.

    In my first semester, however, my Chemistry 203 lecturer Joshua Vura-Weis sat us down and explained to us the term “Imposter Syndrome.” Imposter Syndrome is when intelligent people fail to acknowledge their accomplishments and worry about being exposed as a fraud.

    During the lecture, he asked us how many of us felt like they were struggling with the class more than everyone else. In a lecture hall filled with roughly 150 students, something like 147 said they did. This infectious, self-destructive disorder can eat up the self-confidence of even the best and brightest young minds.

    If ever there comes a time when you feel that you don’t deserve to be where you are, it’s helpful to remember that many, many people around you feel the same way. There is no quick fix for this problem, but no one can determine the value of your worth other than yourself.

    As she was speaking, Dr. Suarez wore a shirt that said, “When you learn how much you’re worth, you’ll stop giving people discounts,” which represented her message quite succinctly. Gaining self-validation not only makes you treat yourself right, but makes others do so as well.

    Hearing that an accomplished adult like Dr. Suarez struggled with something similar was both relieving and inspirational. Her experience of finding self-validation by leaning back and realizing that she doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone is one that people need to hear.

    Shankari is a freshman in LAS.

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