Diving beneath the floor: Dismantling duck syndrome and imposter syndrome

Buried beneath a mountain of educational and social stress, college students at Stanford usually discover themselves grappling with two distinctive psychological challenges — imposter syndrome and duck syndrome. 

Imposter syndrome, characterised by a persistent feeling of inadequacy regardless of accomplishments, regularly coexists with duck syndrome. Initially really coined by Stanford, duck syndrome refers back to the outward look of calmness whereas struggling beneath the floor, very similar to a duck showing to glide serenely above water whereas paddling relentlessly beneath it. 

Each syndromes share a typical theme: the concern of being uncovered as a fraud, regardless of outward appearances of competence and confidence.

Particularly on faculty campuses like Stanford, college students are sometimes surrounded by high-achieving friends, making it difficult to really feel deserving of their accomplishments. This fixed comparability can result in a cycle of self-doubt, the place college students concern they don’t measure as much as these round them and start to doubt their talents, even within the face of goal success. 

“Given the admissions course of, the coed physique consists of formidable overachievers who’re used to holding themselves to excessive expectations and continuously striving for extra, myself included,” Dyllen Nellis ’24 stated.

As they undertake the duck facade, college students inadvertently reinforce their and others’ imposter syndromes, perpetuating the concept everyone seems to be dealing with challenges effortlessly.

Hustle tradition: the wrongdoer or the catalyst?

Hustle tradition has fortified the concept success is immediately proportional to the quantity of effort exerted. Whereas laborious work is undeniably essential to attaining objectives, this tradition usually glorifies burnout and discourages college students from acknowledging their psychological and emotional wants.

In line with psychology professor Greg Walton, hustle tradition “underscores the truth that all people offers with” the stress of neglecting psychological and emotional wants, and that “it’s regular and simply a part of the method.”

Hustle tradition additionally tends to advertise a tunneling concentrate on achievement on the expense of private development and well-being. Attributable to such a pervasive tradition, Nellis stated she handled many insecurities that made her really feel as if she wasn’t getting “essentially the most out of [her] faculty expertise.” 

For her, this meant enrolling in additional than 17 items 1 / 4 (near the 20-unit cap) whereas additionally managing her firm, Subsequent Gen Admit, which gives faculty software help to excessive schoolers. Nellis overworked herself simply to keep up a semblance of management and really feel equal to her friends, she stated. 

Such an absence of stability can result in college students defining their self-worth solely via exterior achievements, additional implementing their emotions of being an “imposter” on the college, as they doubt themselves in the event that they fail to fulfill these excessive requirements

The influence on college students’ psychological well being

The mix of imposter syndrome and duck syndrome can take a extreme toll on college students’ psychological well being. Nellis skilled this throughout the first half of her faculty expertise and “seen Stanford as an extremely worrying place.” 

The fixed stress to excel academically and socially, mixed with the concern of not residing as much as exterior expectations, creates a poisonous setting that fosters anxiousness, despair and burnout, Nellis stated.  

She discovered it tough to stability all of her obligations and “after years of grinding via all [her] work and piling on extra obligations than [she] may deal with,” she burned out. “The stress had come from [herself], not anybody else,” Nellis stated.

The shortcoming to precise vulnerability additional exacerbates the problem, as college students really feel compelled to keep up a facade of perfectionism.

Overcoming the syndromes and reclaiming authenticity

Recognizing the connection between the imposter syndrome, duck syndrome and “hustle tradition” is step one towards “being in contact with who you might be and the type of individual you need to be,” Walton stated. 

Selling a tradition of collaboration and neighborhood over relentless competitors may also help dismantle the cycle of comparability and create a extra compassionate house for private development.

Peer counselor Alisa Grace Aleksanian ’25 stated The Bridge, a student-run psychological well being initiative, is “an vital useful resource on campus that provides help to college students as they take care of no matter they might be going via.”

The Bridge is essentially run by licensed undergraduate and graduate college students who present a confidential and empathetic house the place friends can lend a listening ear, supply coping methods and ship significant insights, Aleksanian stated. 

But, for Aleksanian, staying linked along with her household again dwelling has been the simplest technique for staying grounded throughout her time at Stanford, because it was “a reminder of the place I’m from,” she stated. 

Moreover, serving to college students outline success on their very own phrases, past exterior accolades, may also help them “reclaim their authenticity and concentrate on holistic well-being,” Walton stated. 

Imposter syndrome and duck syndrome could lurk beneath the floor of the Stanford campus environment. Nevertheless, by addressing the foundation causes and dismantling hustle tradition, Stanford can nurture a technology of empowered, mentally resilient and genuine college students, Walton stated.

“Life isn’t meant to be spent working on a regular basis — it’s meant to be skilled,” Nellis stated.


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