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Genesis Guerra: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Futures Fellow

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Genesis Guerra was a California 100 Futures Fellow and student at USC, where she helped establish a First Generation Student Leadership program to ensure every first-gen student would feel welcome. She is passionate about immigration reform and combatting education inequality. Learn more about the 2023 Youth Futures Summit and explore our collective visions, strategies, solutions and commitments for the Future of California at youth.california 

Imposter syndrome is real. Weirdly, it manifests itself very differently than one might think. Normally, you might believe that people with imposter syndrome lack confidence in one’s abilities and accomplishments, or that it is a minor issue that can be easily overcome by simply changing your mindset or thinking positively – that is simply not true. In fact, more people than not experience some form of imposter syndrome. Fortunately, and unfortunately, I’ve experienced my fair share of, for the lack of a better word, imposter syndrome. Coming from a low income background as a child of immigrants (who are also people of color), life has not been the kindest in a world where I am a minority. 

In every space that I fill, I find myself feeling not worthy and doubting the words I say. Questions populate in my mind almost instantly in new professional spaces and environments; Why am I here? Have I done enough? Wow, everyone has so much experience, do I belong? Did I just get lucky and don’t truly deserve this?

There have been a couple of moments in my life where imposter syndrome has manifested in a strong way. One of the biggest moments being when I got an acceptance letter from the University of Southern California. Exciting, right? Wrong. In a family where I am first-generation, getting into college is a big success. But unfortunately, the big successes in my life that I have encountered, I haven’t had the pleasure of truly enjoying those moments. When I received the letter, my mind immediately rejected it. They accidentally sent me an acceptance letter, I thought. While my family cheered me on, my friends congratulated me, and my educators smiled in pride, I found myself feeling not worthy, like it was a mistake. I felt like an imposter sneaking into a place not made for me. The only other time I have felt such a strong feeling was when California 100 sent over their congratulations email, indicating that I was selected as a Fellow. 

While I was able to savor a bit of happiness when the email was received, after our first session together, I felt defeated. Like I said, imposter syndrome is real, and in that moment, I felt like a true imposter. In my mind, every other fellow in the cohort truly belonged except for me. I texted my friends immediately after the first session explaining how I was panicking because everyone else was so amazing. I felt like a fraud being part of a group of  people who have done great things, and the experience I had at the time felt like it didn’t amount to the others. 

However, deep down, I knew I was wrong. Just how imposter syndrome is very real, combatting and overcoming it is also hard, and a real issue. Being a first generation student ambassador at USC has taught me a few things on imposter syndrome, including why it is important to overcome it. Working to overcome imposter syndrome can lead to improved self-esteem and confidence, building stronger relationships, and personal growth. And while it might have just been easy to give up, I wanted the best I could get from being a Fellow. I viewed my fellowship with California 100 as an opportunity to grow as a person and a professional, and build onto my confidence. The first couple weeks of the program, I needed to remind myself that I did, in fact, belong in a group with other bright and insightful fellows. 

One step I took to overcome this immense feeling of doubt included speaking to some of my professors on campus. My American studies professor helped ground me and remind me, “You were chosen for a reason. Leave your mark.” Her words continue to echo with me and have helped me move forward with creating the manifesto. Another step I took was speaking about my feelings of feeling like a fraud with my other group members. I found that others felt the same way, and their support helped me overcome how anxious I would get. I, for the first time, did not feel like I was alone, but instead in a group of people truly excited to create a manifesto and envision change.

The process of creating the manifesto was hard, but I overcame it. Being a California 100 Fellow has been an experience that I cannot believe I have been able to be a part of. And while I suffered from imposter syndrome in the beginning, I have definitely overcome it and have been able to create memories and gain experience that is irreplaceable. I learned that all it takes is talking about how I am feeling, and finding the support to overcome doubts. To other students who may be struggling, feel like they do not belong, or feel deserving of where they may be at, it’s okay. It is 100% okay to feel that way and is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it is always advised to recognize your feelings. But remember how far you’ve come and take every step possible to remind yourself that you belong. Acknowledge your negative thoughts and try to challenge those thoughts by reminding yourself that you do in fact belong and remind yourself of the achievements and skills that have led you to where you are now. 

Talk to others around you, as that definitely helps, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from colleagues who can provide a listening ear and a different perspective. Lastly, don’t forget to indulge in self-care as being mindful and meditation can help you overcome imposter syndrome and thrive in your personal and professional life.