Life After College: How I’m Struggling To Accept My Accomplishments

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September 16, 2015 • Career, Life Tips, Reflect

“Sometimes I feel like I’m still faking it.”

I am a college graduate. I am a college graduate. Okay, that’s still weird to read, write, AND say out loud. I know that I graduated college.  I have held my degree and even framed it! For some reason, it just still does not feel like I have graduated college.

Lots of literature on female empowerment in business, politics, and other realms talk about how women live by the adage “Fake it ’til you make it.” The real problem is that even when women make it they still feel like they’re “faking it.”

The result is that women who are amply qualified often turn down opportunities they would otherwise make great candidates for because they don’t feel qualified enough.

I studied politics in college. I read about this a thousand times and promised myself that I would never be one of those women who let their gender hold them back.

I made a point of raising my hand in classes even when I knew my opinion would be unpopular or if I wasn’t one hundred percent sure that my answer was right.

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I negotiated my first salary.

I took classes where I was outnumbered 9-to-1 by men and refused to let that stifle my voice.

I attended events where male peers attempted to have conversations right over me. I demanded to be acknowledged.

I have spent time educating myself on how to engage men in creating more equal gender dynamics. I have read more on the politics of gender than on any other topic. I even wrote my senior thesis in college on how gender composition in social settings can affect engagement for women.

So why can’t I shake this feeling?

Despite handing in my thesis and being handed a diploma, why do I still fear that the University is going to call me and tell me to bring it back?

The fact of the matter is this: I don’t know.

I mean, I did do it. I fulfilled my graduation requirements. In fact, I even took more courses than I needed to!

If I went above and beyond in the requirements, doesn’t that make it ridiculous that I can’t shake this feeling?

Why, yes. Yes, it does.

However, that doesn’t mean these feelings are invalid. It just means that despite being cognizant of it all these feelings can still creep up.

I’m working really hard to not feel like this anymore. The last thing I want is for this doubt to be something that keeps me from reaching my potential and performing at my best. Nonetheless, it seems like a constant reminder of how I still have so much to do, not only for myself but for all women.

I take this doubt and am using it as motivation. It’s my fuel to do more, to do better, to work harder.

How do you deal with the sense that you’re ‘faking it’? COMMENT below. Let’s get this conversation started!

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Emilie Burke

This post is written by Emilie from the Burke Does team, a life and style community pushing you to help live a beautiful, happy, hand-made-with-love life. On the blog, they write about creativity, health and wellness, fitness, cooking, and planning and organization.

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  • Thank you for letting me share!

  • Thanks for sharing such a personal post and congrats on your academic accomplishments. I’ve been there! (Now in my mid 30’s) It’s normal for all new grads to feel the way you do. It’s unchartered waters right now. Strong opinions, a fierce heart and an education coupled with Life experiences help to flesh out what you already have into confidence.

    • Thanks for sharing, Dija! Emilie’s post really does speak to what alot of new grads are feeling so your insight and wisdom is much appreciated!

  • Anne Lawton

    Congratulations on being a college graduate. You will shake that faking feeling soon, it’s a big change in life from being student to a real adult.

  • Passport to Bliss

    Congratulations college graduate!!! You did it! Oh my yes, I had that feeling after college too! But trust me, with time, experience and that solid education you have, you’ll be just fine! Now go out there & do your thing!!! 🙂

  • Congratulations for your amazing accomplishments! It is definitely not easy to go from college to the “real life” but I am sure you do good 🙂

  • Congrats on your graduation. Those feelings you have will pass with time. It’s just about different stages of life. I often wonder why I thought like I did when I was 20. Things made more sense when I turned 30. (34 now)

    • What kinds of things make more sense now, Bryce?

      • Just thoughts such as not stressing about small stuff, looking at the big picture.
        Also worrying about what others think. I now know where I want to be. Please don’t think I’m predicting your thoughts !!

        All the best 🙂

  • It’s fantastic that you’ve got the self awareness to recognize these feelings in yourself and intentionally work against them. I was so impressed reading the post. I know struggle so much with feelings of faking it or a fear of being “found out” as less-than, and because of this, I often look to others to validate me. I know this isn’t healthy, so it’s a constant battle for me as well as I strive to work against it.

  • Melody Cherry Rosa

    I love how real this post is no matter how much you prepare for your life after graduation fighting for gender equality should never validate your qualification and all your accomplishments is inspiring

  • PamIW

    Congratulations on graduating from college! I think how you feel is somewhat normal for most college grads. I know I felt that way. I also had a recurring dream for years that I forgot to take the last college course that I needed to graduate. I don’t know why because like you, I had more than enough credits and had met all of my requirements. I had good solid grades too and never failed a class…so not sure why I would dream that. Within a year, I think you will see that feeling of “faking it” fade away.

  • Like they say – sometimes I “fake it till I make it” – pushing through no matter what negative feelings are with me helps me come out ahead – I love this candid post!

  • Congrats on graduating. As far as faking it…yes, I have that feeling from time to time even in my current job when someone way up the chain asks me to do something I have never done before. I figure it out and get it done but sometimes I smile in fear until the job is done. It’s crazy but keep working on what you have an things will get better/easier.

  • Pam McCormick

    I think we all feel like that from time to time. Its all about believing in yourself and shutting down our “internal negative talk.” You will learn more about yourself as the years go by! 🙂

  • Lana

    Congrats on your graduation! My daughter felt the same when she graduated, but it passed with time. Keep working on your goals!

  • Karissa Ancell

    Congrats on Graduating from College! I do feel like I’m faking it as an adult sometime. I think it comes from just not believing that I’m really old enough to be living this life.

  • Karen Puleski

    This is true, I think for men and women. Congratulations on your accomplishments, faking it could not have gotten you to where you are, I am certain it is deserved 🙂

  • This is a really great post! I feel like I’m faking it all the time. I started my blog four years ago and today I’m preparing to launch my first book on raw feeding (what the hell do I know about dog nutrition?) on Amazon and I will be the Keynote speaker at WordCamp Seattle.

    When the hell did all of this happen?

    I feel like I’m faking it and I just own it and enjoy it. The moments of that feeling are getting less and less as I move forward.

    • So true, sometimes “faking it” can serve as a catalyst to get us where we need to go. Thanks for sharing!

  • Angela Rivas-Santana

    Hello, I really like this post. To some people they would say that you are brave for sharing this, and so do I. One thing I have to say that I have done, both in college and real life, I lacked confidence or wasn’t truly sure I found my passion. I NEVER had any issues dealing with males at all. As a matter of fact, I would befriend men at college and work before women. Although, I tell you, I have had to put up a fight to negotiate salary or anything else. I used to run circles around the men I worked with—but it wasn’t because I wanted to prove to the men that I can do what they do—it was because I have control over where I go in my life, no one else does, I do. I used to “fake” things, however, now I walk in there standing up straight looking forward, make eye contact and take over when I see my opportunity.
    I also have to tell you, I LOVE politics. I get about 4-6 hours a day of watching the news and political debate. I am a black sheep and I love it! Best wishes to you!

  • April Ockerman

    I have a college degree but sometimes forget that as I now am no where near that field of business. It is funny where life takes us and we work so hard for that piece of paper.

  • Natalie Hinkley

    I remember that feeling well when I first got out of college. The more you familiarize yourself in the workplace, your confidence will grow leaps and bounds. But yeah, you finish you classes, walk across the stage, and it’s like ‘okay, I guess I have a college education now. I feel the same’. I think though it is just a misplaced idea that stuff should ‘feel’ a certain way. When really nothing ever feels all that different, at least to me!

  • AutumnDawn

    Haha, honestly, I am waaay out of college, and still feel like I am faking it sometimes. But, take a deep breath, and remember that you have worked for your education, skills, and qualifications. You own this set of attributes, and no one can take them away from you.

  • I think a lot of people feel like they are faking it when they take on a new job or a new challenge (or enter a new phase in life). I believe that is part of the logic behind “fake it until you make it”. I think the confidence grows as you get more accustomed to the new challenge.

  • Wonderfully written. I’m 51 years old with a graduate degree and way past those first years of being out of college. But I do remember somewhere back in the corner of my mind feeling like it wasn’t possible I was a full-fledged adult doing a grown up’s job with the same responsibilities as the 40 year olds at work. I felt like the junior high worker. I don’t really know when that ended… but it definitely did! I think we put in our time and pay our dues and build our cred – both for ourselves and colleagues – until we believe to our core that “this” is who we really are. Not the kid version anymore. But I have to say that you are very impressive in all that you’ve done, asserting yourself as a woman, etc. You’re off to a fantastic start. If I may give a tiny bit of advice as your elder…. 🙂 Be gentle with yourself! Maybe you had a picture in your mind of what a college graduate should know or be able to do and because you’re still “just you” it doesn’t feel legit. Sort of like every year on a birthday when people ask, “Do you feel 16 or 18 or 21 yet?” And you think, “No! I just feel like me on a different day!” Also, I’ve loved hearing from interviews with extremely successful people that they stepped out WAY before they were actually ready and often they still feel over their heads. They take a new movie role or agree to write a book or speak at a major event, and they’re freaking out afterward because they’re sure people are going to fire them for being a total fraud! Somehow though they grow into it… I think you will too!! Best wishes!

  • I can totally relate to this post because I struggled with imposter symdrome as well. It’s horrible.That’s part of the reason I started my blog…to help other people get past those haunting feeling and design a life that makes them happy. Great post!!!

  • I think everyone doubts themselves at some point. To a certain degree it can be a good thing, as it can help us to honestly evaluate ourselves from time to time. When it becomes destructive and holds us back from accomplishing tasks that we are well qualified for is when it becomes a problem.

  • Ayana Pitterson

    Wow, great post and absolutely awesome question. Girl I have been out of college for over 15 years and I still feel this insecurity at times. But, you have to always reach down and do a self evaluation every now and then. You attended college, you put in the hard work and you graduated. You earned your spot wherever you are and don’t let anyone or any nagging feeling take that from you.

    thrifting diva

    • I love that quote! “You earned your spot wherever you are.”

  • Adrienne Z. Milligan

    Emilie, I know exactly how you feel! I graduated in 1997 and I still get the “they’re going to take it back feeling.” Like you, I have no logical reason why. I have spoken up in male-only meetings, often. I ran a non-profit committee for almost three years where, at times, I was the only female. I did struggle with being-the-only-woman in the room off and on. Other times, I had no problems running the meeting and making sure things got done. Now I’m no longer in charge of the committee. Part of the feeling of “I’m faking it” has returned. Perhaps it is due to trying to finish the first book in a series of which I’m writing. I’ve got a published book. This will be book #2. So, why do I feel like I’m FAKING IT? I have zero idea! I appreciate how you’ve shared your feelings. You are not alone. Not at all. ~Adrienne

  • RedSoxFanNCJill

    I’m not sure when you graduated college but it FEELS recent and from experience, I felt the same way. It wasn’t a self-doubt thing at all, it’s part of the transition and someone was kind enough to share that with me when I shared one more at my new, not in my field job – “I had a dream last night that I was back in college, that I had no clue what my schedule was, where I was in my studies, etc. I was just a mess, and on top of that, I woke up SURE that FSU was going to call me and say they made a mistake and I needed to mail my diploma back…” That is part of the transition to life after college, when you’re no longer bound to classes, schedules and that whole life. You’re FREE to be you, and sometimes it takes time to figure out who YOU are! Congrats on graduating! 🙂

  • Ha! I graduated over 10 years ago and feel like I’m faking it til I make it most days! I tell myself that its just confidence, right!? Set your goals high and go get em! Congrats on your accomplishments thus far.