Dear Class of 2024: Imposter syndrome pitfalls

To the Annenberg Class of 2024,

Happy middle of June. I hope this finds you happy, healthy and not too hot if you are experiencing the recent, unusual heatwave here in Los Angeles. For those of you who are new to California, L.A. usually goes through what’s called “June Gloom,” a time where the sky is San Francisco-level overcast and the beach weather is subpar.

With less than nine weeks left until the official start of your college career, I want to address the role that social media might play in your transition to USC. While this will, of course, depend on your activity and engagement on each social media platform, I am confident that the pressure to keep up with other people’s game-day posts, birthday hashtags and Insta stories will get to you in some way shape or form.

Social media is a place to meet new friends, amplify your voice and educate your community, but our carefully crafted profiles set up a parallel universe of comparison, self-doubt, and anxiety. Consider the following:

The leaves on some of the trees on campus are changing color, and you are finally settling into your new life at USC. You are scrolling through Instagram after a long afternoon lecture. You notice that an acquaintance from high school posted a photo from a party, hugging all of her new best friends. Her post is flooded with emojis and “Love You!” comments. You start to wonder, How have they already created these strong bonds? It’s only week three! I still don’t know who to eat dinner with. I must be doing something wrong.

Sound familiar? If it does, you are most definitely not alone.

Social media adds fuel to the fire that is imposter syndrome (IS). If you aren’t familiar with the term, IS is where you doubt your accomplishments and abilities as a direct result of comparing yourself with others. In other words, you convince yourself that you are not as smart, and thus lesser, than by comparison.

But I want you to know two things. First off, everyone is comparing themselves with their peers, especially nervous freshmen and transfer students coming to a new campus. Second, remember that everyone — myself included — is posting the best, most aesthetically pleasing moments on their feed. What they aren’t posting? The late-night mental breakdown or the onset of their “freshman 15” (don’t fight it, it happens).

But imposter syndrome unfortunately presents itself off-screen, as well. You may find yourself hesitant to raise your hand or go to office hours. Especially when your GE lectures are guaranteed to be filled with a mix of freshman and seniors, with students from all different majors, upbringings and countries.

In fact, if you are anything like I was as a first-year, there will most likely be the little devil propped on your shoulder telling you to not disagree with a sophomore or not to raise your hand because you could be wrong.

Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Seniority means less than nothing after high school — 23-year-olds will treat you with respect and value your opinion. It sounds crazy, I know, but get used to it. The only thing holding you back is you! So, use your voice and challenge the status quo. Disagree with the upperclassmen, because your comment could inspire someone else and start a broader conversation.

Don’t lose sight of the reality that you are smart — you’re at this school for a reason. I really wish somebody would have told me that as an intimidated freshman.

So, if you take away anything at all from today’s letter, remember this: Everyone is on their own journey and their own path, so comparing yourself with someone else will only take you farther from yours. There is a time and place for social media, but taking a break isn’t always a bad thing. I promise you that nobody has it all figured out. In fact, I would argue that if you don’t have it figured out, you are doing it right.

Stay healthy, and Fight On!

— Ella

Questions? Concerns? Need a hug? I’m here. 
Email: ellakatz@usc.edu
Instagram: @srirachamayoenthusiast
Twitter: @ellakatz20