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An open letter about imposter syndrome, #BOPO and the fear of being a “twenty-something”


Acknowledging my transition from teenage-hood to adulthood is a game I am still struggling to play at 23. From running errands to booking a doctor’s appointment (the thought still gives me chills), I constantly feel like I am one step away from succeeding, one food shop or bill payment at a time. 

Being a university graduate is what I thought would feel like the ultimate accomplishment. Instead, it ended up feeling like I am actively trying to enter this adulthood bubble, only for the door staff to scan my ID and throw me out before I can get a glimpse of all the other people enjoying themselves on the dance floor. I got all glammed up for nothing – I am still not worthy of the luxury of being taken seriously. Not because my education isn’t appropriate or my knowledge is too scarce, yet simply because youth means vanity and lack of experience. I am too young to be a millennial and too old to feel like a true Gen Z-er, so where do us, late 90s babies stand? Is it in the corner with the rest of the “twenty-somethings”, as society calls us, that are confused and feel like ropes are being thrown down at them, when they’ve only been taught how to climb a ladder? Post-university anxiety is something people do not talk about enough – it’s all about the caps and the gowns for a while, but what happens to all the people facing their future afterwards? There is no lecture theatre screen to look at when September comes – only a a phone screen displaying a bank balance that doesn’t justify the cost of your education, let alone the psychological investment you’ve made over the years.

…it ended up feeling like I am actively trying to enter this adulthood bubble, only for the door staff to scan my ID and throw me out before I can get a glimpse of all the other people enjoying themselves on the dance floor.

When I heard about what people call ‘Imposter syndrome’, the relief came with its very name. It became the hope that other people have the same ‘I-don’t-belong-here’ feeling as I did. And whether it was related to work, as EIC of Elle UK, Farah Storr beautifully describes it or about adult life in general, it almost became a reassurance knowing that there are other people out there who don’t have it together either, despite their Instagram profiles and LikenIn professional achievement line-up. 

When it comes to my career, I feel like I have already pushed some heavy doors to get to where I am today. Whether that’s been successfully getting through education or securing internships at *big* places and jobs that feel just about respectable enough to be spoken about at a dinner party, I have my fair share of stories to casually drop into a conversation. But the bit that’s left unspoken is the chill down your spine when you enter a new building only to head straight to reception as you introduce yourself as the new intern. The same goes for starting a new job where you feel like the shoes you have to fill are simply too big, despite being the ideal candidate *on paper* and passing the interview with flying colours. And this is how imposter syndrome becomes the cover-up for a deeper source of unfulfillment and self-doubt and it materialises when we are in a new position that we don’t feel worthy of. It’s funny how a society that encourages you to be unique can make your uniqueness feel so normal, but it does feel like there are so many people trying to stand out that we just end up raining on each others’ parades without even meaning to. 

When it comes to your personal life, the spectrum gets even broader. Until this new stage of ‘adulthood’, the pattern has been much simpler to follow, as the education system made it much easier to determine one’s success at that particular stage in life. But with some people already having flourishing careers in their early twenties whilst others build the base of a family, the definition of accomplishment only gets vaguer. ‘We’re all doing things at our own pace’ is the universal message we all try and take on, but how many of us are guilty of gazing into someone else’s life when trying to figure out our own? 

Speaking of comparing ourselves to others, body image could not be left behind. Everything from job opportunities to brands is becoming more ‘inclusive’, but inclusivity only stretches as far as we let it. Despite the massive progress we made when it comes to celebrating beauty in its every shape and form, every one of us has felt conditioned at least once to wear (or not) certain things and *quite literally* pose for that shot. Despite acknowledging  that we are becoming a lot more open to different types of beautiful, we still have our own picture in our head of what we want to look like – call it a desire for self improvement, though mostly, an attempt at conformity. The #BOPO movement has opened our eyes, but it takes a lot more to pave the way to both self-love and self-acceptance. And if chasing after the likes of others (or the literal likes on Instagram) wasn’t sprung by jealousy and the need to do “just as well”, then maybe we would stand a chance at banishing the BOPO movement and start seeing all bodies as ‘beautiful’. The hashtag itself isn’t used by the people who have achieved the ‘perfect body’, yet only by the ones who have sought self-acceptance for so long, only for society to give them an Instagram hashtag. We have, however, failed to understand that a social media trend won’t make people love themselves in the long run – stretch marks aren’t seasonal, they are a reality of the human body. If you don’t have them, you aren’t ‘lucky’, nor are you ‘just human’ if you do. All bodies are normal. And normal is beautiful. 

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