How often have I been told, “Your cousin did this, why can’t you?” How often did I feel the utmost pride in my parents flaunting me like a prize to my extended family? And how often did I attempt to bathe in my accomplishments just to be met with, “Of course you did good, you’re Asian?”
From as early as elementary school, this mindset and these words continued to haunt, yet drive me. Societal and familial expectations became my goals, and inadequacy became my worst fear. The phrase “if you’re not first, you’re last” gained an entirely new meaning and quickly became the epicenter of my way of living. I’m a competitive person at heart, but that was never a choice of mine.
“Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”– Gill Corkindale, Harvard Business Review (2008)
The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was coined in 1985 by Dr. Pauline Clance. While it was used to mainly describe graduate students’ experiences achieving higher education, the term has trickled its way down to be incorporated into undergraduate and even high school students’ vocabularies. As stated above, imposter syndrome is defined by its fraudulent beliefs that impedes on an individual’s self-confidence despite achieving objective success. This mindset has become increasingly prevalent amongst American youth due to the individualistic and competitive nature of American culture.
Imposters typically attribute their successes to luck – in other words, individuals who have imposter thoughts are more likely to say they got lucky with their achievements instead of saying they earned it through hard work. With lower acceptance rates into educational programs and the lottery-like system that is admissions offices, it becomes easier for imposter thoughts to overshadow achievements and have ‘luck’ be the determinant of success.
While there are many causes to imposter syndrome, one of the largest contestants is familial expectations. Families who value high achievement tend to have children who experience imposter syndrome more than others. Imposters may also find themselves seeking external validation from their family members, allowing them to deem the imposters’ achievements as worthy or unworthy. By giving this power to their family members, the imposters’ self-confidence and self-concept lies at their hands. Imposter syndrome in youth is also evident in families who show low levels of support, especially towards their children’s accomplishments.
The model minority myth characterizes one minority group as higher achieving or more successful than other minority groups, and they are described as successful in terms of their intelligence, work ethic, and income. Asian Americans’ unique stance of the ‘model minority’ provides them with a distinct perspective when experiencing imposter syndrome. Coupled with pre-existing familial expectations of most Asian American families, societal expectations from this status can perpetuate imposter syndrome within Asian American youth.
As previously stated, familial expectations is one of the main predictors for the presentation of imposter syndrome in youth. Asian families tend to hold rigid academic expectations for their youth, such as specific grades, career paths, extracurriculars, etc. This causes Asian youth’s achievements to go uncelebrated and become regulated expectations. Asian parents also often use comparison as a driving mechanism for enhancing their children’s performance; however, this only fuels their imposter thoughts and harms their self-concept.
Similarly, the model minority status degrades accomplishment by making it expected and diminishes individual effort. The model minority myth sets this societal expectation for all Asian American youth to excel academically and financially and creates the belief that ethnicity/culture is a definitive factor of success. Therefore, Asian Americans who don’t necessarily meet society’s expectations are seen as ‘broken’ and are discounted. How are Asian youth allowed to go ‘above and beyond’ when the standard for their community is set to ‘beyond?’
The additive effect of these expectations bears on the backs of Asian youth, leading to higher levels of burnout, anxiety, and depression, and lower confidence levels. This increases the susceptibility of Asian American youth falling victim to the ‘imposter.’
There is no cure for imposter syndrome. If there was, I wouldn’t have to take Fluoxetine daily and my parents would be heavily disappointed in me right now. The purpose of writing this piece is to define my anxieties behind success and (hopefully) provide solidarity to other like-minded individuals. I find that the first step to reframing ruminating thoughts is to identify the mechanisms behind it.
Nonetheless, it is imperative to recognize imposter thoughts and how to combat them, whether it be through constant affirmations or building a good support system. Your successes and your accomplishments are your own, and they are not dictated by society, family, or your ethnicity.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.