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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

Go Irish, beat imposter syndrome

What is your first memory? It’s probably something very random. But maybe it provided a hint about the person you will become — your interests, your personality, a glimpse into the future and the past all at once.

My first memory is not that. It’s going to preschool or daycare and being excited they had a Thomas the Tank Engine set. My second memory, however, feels more telling. It is from probably about a year later, at the house of someone from named Stephen who I went to first grade with. I do not remember anything that happened there, but I remember how I felt — shy.

So much has changed in the 15-plus years since then. And yet, that feeling still lingers. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that my shyness is probably not its own thing, but a symptom of something greater. Mental health has become an increasingly popular topic in society, and for good reasons. There are so many facets to it, so many ways a person can be thrown out of sorts. One of the most well-known ways is something called imposter syndrome — “a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud,” according to Wikipedia.

Shyness isn’t the only way this manifests, but it’s probably the most all-encompassing. If you were born an extrovert or combat bashfulness better than I have, it’s easy to discount. Everyone has big things that stress them out, and I’m no different. But the things that most people see as stress relievers — like chilling with your friends — stress me out too. That feeling is always there.

For a while, I tried to ignore it. And that worked for a while — until my junior year of high school. I had actually made a couple of pretty good friends by then who I knew had a bigger friend group that I really wanted to be included in. But how could I, someone who struggled to make friends their entire childhood, fit in with a dozen or so of the coolest people (people way cooler than me) that I knew? I accepted for a while that I couldn’t, convincing myself that having a friend group probably wasn’t as great as it seemed. It took a (thankfully not serious) car accident on New Year’s Eve to realize just how stupid that thought was. Of course, that only made me more afraid to ask because the stakes for failing seemed higher than ever.

But, in June 2019, I did ask. And for the last four years, I have been lucky enough to call those people my friends. Their friendship means the world to me – I could dedicate this entire article to them and still fail to capture just how happy I am to spend time with them and how much they mean to me.

As a result, that doubt went away for a while. My senior year of high school was largely full of blissful peace and confidence. But then COVID-19 hit, we all left for college and I realized those feelings weren’t gone for good. I have also made some great friends at Notre Dame, and yet it still isn’t completely erased. It keeps me constantly second-guessing and hunkered down in my dorm room on weekend nights when I should be going out. I want to do just that, but at the same time, I also don’t. When I get invited to do stuff, I am happy to be included — and always a little worried I’ll somehow mess up and never get the chance to do it again.

As a second-semester junior, this is a big time in my life. I applied to be Sports Editor of The Observer, to be an RA in Siegfried and for all of the internships. Guess what — I was named Sports Editor. And selected as an RA. And chosen for a great internship.

Each of these new opportunities comes with a heightened level of responsibility. And therefore, a heightened level of fear. Confidence and poise are paramount for interviews for these things. Yet when preparing, I couldn’t help but hear the same thoughts I always fret about. “Why are you even trying this? Do you really think you’re qualified to help others? What will everyone think of you if you fail?”

I have met some great writers and better people at The Observer — more people I’m lucky enough to call friends. They include our last two amazing sports editors, Aidan and Manni, and other wonderful people who I know will be at the forefront of our work going forward. People who, like my friends from high school back home and the ones I made at my internship last summer, I am terrified of letting down, fearing that stepping into a bigger role will expose fatal flaws that I’ve been able to hide. Flaws that will make them realize that no one should want to be friends with me, the same way I felt in middle school when my two best friends at the time moved away and I literally had none.

I remember what that was like. People used to ask me who my best friend was and I literally could not provide an honest answer. It was so deflating. The thought of ever being back there one day is scary.

But even acknowledging all of those admittedly irrational fears, things have gotten better. I don’t have to doubt whether I’ll have friends — after all, I see about a dozen of them every time I turn my phone on. I’m not letting my worries about all of these things stop me. There are plenty of great things on the horizon. I know I have people I can talk to, and if nothing else, a song that I can throw on repeat to escape my problems in 2:54 bursts.

Even though it is sometimes hard to accept it, I know I have made so much progress over the last few years. Despite my nerves, I’m still really excited to become our next Sports Editor and try to make this special place even better.  Unfortunately, the doubt still weighs me down at times. Maybe there is no way to truly escape it. But all of my happiest moments — that fateful summer night in high school, football games and tailgates at Notre Dame, late nights editing and laughing alongside my good friends here — have come when I’ve been able to put them aside.

That’s more than enough motivation for now for me to keep fighting it. Even more importantly, so is knowing that there are people who are happy to call me a friend, whether it’s stupid for them to or not.

Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a senior in Siegfried Hall from Haddonfield, New Jersey. Naturally, he loves his Philadelphia sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Reach out to talk sports and shows, especially if they're Abbott Elementary or Survivor.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.