I was 16 years old when I officially joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a lone member in a ward full of large families, I often felt aloof and struggled to feel like I truly belonged. I sat next to various families during sacrament meetings. I didn’t attend seminary, never attended a Family Home Evening, didn’t know the words to “Popcorn Popping” and often avoided answering questions in Sunday School because of fears that I would answer incorrectly.
A year after my baptism, I was accepted into BYU. I decided this was my opportunity to finally blend into the crowd and fit into the perfect mold, and I was reasonably successful in this goal for a total of three weeks — until I failed my first-ever religion exam. The class average was 89%, and I simply could not grasp how I had received my first F from a college class focusing on a religion I was a member of.
After this experience, I chose to only take religion classes that had hundreds of students and easy professors in which I knew I could make it through without ever having to say a word or fail another test. From the outside looking in, it appeared as though I had everything together; but on the inside, I still felt like I didn’t measure up to those around me.
After completing a couple of psychology courses as part of my studies, I learned that what I was experiencing is often part of the psychological phenomenon called imposter syndrome, and I was interested to learn I was not alone in this struggle. A 2019 BYU study found that roughly 20% of BYU students experience this phenomenon, including hundreds of converts just like me.
Imposter syndrome can occur when one feels like their knowledge, skills or attributes do not compare to the community around them, despite the fact that they are actually well-qualified and capable. This internal feeling of imposterism often goes unnoticed by others, and can take place in a wide variety of settings, including church, work, school and in friend groups. The feelings often lead people to believe they are frauds, or that they don’t fit in with or add up to their peers.
Although it can be felt by anyone in or out of the Church, this seems to be an especially prominent feeling among converts who didn’t have the opportunity to do things like attend Primary, participate in youth programs, go to EFY or be raised in a Church-centered household. Converts often feel like they are lacking the years of spiritual experiences and family background to succeed in the Church.
The feelings can also often be felt by new college students. With the upcoming school year, thousands of freshman and sophomore students will be stepping onto campus for the very first time, many after spending the past year entirely online. These include students who are the first in their families to attend college, or international students moving to Utah for the first time. Many will likely experience imposter syndrome in their classes, at church or in other social settings.
It’s important to remember you are not alone if you feel like you don’t belong. There is no perfect mold for Church members or for college students at BYU, even when it feels like you are constantly seeing the perfect mold everywhere you look.
— Decker Westenburg