Definition: a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".
Two years ago, I became a mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park. A journey that I will never forget and never regret. The early days of my journey at college started as a Letters & Science’s (undecided) student that made Dean’s List her first semester to being rejected by the Engineering School to then being accepted and transitioned to the A. James Clark School of Engineering. I’ll never forget the moment that I found out that I would be admitted to the engineering program. I remember taking a sigh of relief because I could finally tell the world the truth. But my sigh was also accompanied by a sigh of guilt that I may be lying to myself. At that moment, I couldn’t tell if the tears rolling down my face were to celebrate or for warning.
(**Rewind Tapes**) So let’s give you some backstory to how we got here, folks. When I first applied to college, I didn’t apply to any major because I wasn’t sure of where I wanted to go. The options seem endless but the time to make that decision seem limited. I had to choose how my future would look by just one simple drop down option that asked which department I wanted to apply to. When the idea of engineering was brought up by my parents, of course, I remember telling my siblings about the possibility and the advice they gave me will forever be branded on that memory: “Don’t do it because you’re trying to prove yourself to everybody else.” Prior to that moment, I heard way too many times from others , “You don’t even look like an engineer. How could a ‘goofy’ person like you take that course seriously?” Challenge accepted.
Fast forward to current day, that girl became a woman with an engineering degree and works for a technical company as an Account Representative. However, the image may sell a great story but the narrative defines the real character. For so long, I challenged myself to not be constrained to the label of what society believes an engineer should be or look like. But the reality is, I wasn’t fighting with labels but I was fighting my own cover up; hiding behind what I do and not presenting who I am. I thought my identity was defined by what people can see but the truth is, I would have rather blamed people’s eyes then try to fix my own. The real point that I am trying to make is that , that woman that grew into new positions forgot to fully grow into herself. That woman is still accompanied by the girl who’s in the business of proving others wrong. From the ones who said I couldn’t do it to the ones who never saw me outside of what I can do. See, what I have learned over the years, is that no matter what milestone I may reach, it won’t make a difference if I am not challenging myself to reach that new dimension of growth.
I am who I have only known to see.
Three Misconceptions of Value:
I am What I do - performance (Career labels, identity crisis)
I am What I have - (materialistic things, personality traits, opinions of me)
I am only as good as what people can see - (popularity, likes, ratings, expectations that culture sets)
What changed for me? I was tired of being an imposter to my own image that I tried to create. Once I met these accomplishments, I always questioned what I had to prove next. I always felt that with more accomplishments, came more work to try to prove that I was deserving of those accomplishments. No matter what label was added to my name, I never felt like myself. That’s the difference between image vs. character. The camera can only capture what's in focus. If you want to paint the real picture of the identity you were called to, then you need to focus. Focus on the lens of the camera more than the image being captured (that gives vision to the image). If the lens is your perspective: how do you plan on seeing your identity through your own vision or the vision of God?
My faith has been my anchor within this whole process. My faith has really helped to shake this false narrative that my life is defined by the world. I have been on this inward journey of recognizing my character and standing tall with integrity towards not compromising it. I believe that as we continue into the process of adulting, or simply growing, that we are always going to face fears along the way from what we do and who we become. Part of growing into who you have always been, means listening to who you really are. Find your own narrative. Define your own story. And let God be the author of it.
Remember, you are not a fraud for growing. Growing is not changing form but changing your perspective. It’s about growing to who you have always been. We all see a glimpse of who we truly are when we are in a place of complete equilibrium, where we are allowed to move, think, and act freely. This place can easily become distracted by moments that lose our focus from people’s opinions to the world’s labels. However, you should always remain in position to become the greatest version of yourself. You are allowed to make mistakes. You are allowed to start again. You are allowed to change the narrative. You are allowed to be that AND more. Don’t subscribe to labels or spaces but let your character define yourself in those spaces and add value to those labels. Start having more conversations that allow your voice to be known. So you can understand your voice. Not your tone but your heart.
I wish I could’ve told that girl in the bathroom, that found out she got accepted to the engineering program ,that it’s okay to be afraid. I wish I could have told her that she was not afraid of failing to others’ expectations but she was really afraid of failing herself. Losing herself in the process. She didn’t know if it was the right choice but somewhere along the way she found out who she was really supposed to be all along. She found out who she has always been and not who she was before college, but who she was before the world met her. Who she was when God designed her. Now she cherishes every accomplishment that has come and will come because of the process that got her there and the layers that she had to unpeeled to get her there. She had to become who she is to recognize what she does has meaning and not just a definition. That girl may have been you in some way, the person reading this, and I want you to know that you’re not fake for not knowing all the answers or the full story but you’re faithful to keep going.