Impostor syndrome at UC Berkeley has been a constant part of my experience on campus — especially in the ASUC. The idea that people don’t believe that I deserve to be where I am bothers me more than it should. Maybe they think I got to where I am because I’m “electable” — or, worse, because “people like me.” And so, every day, I work to convince myself that I truly am excellent at my job.
That’s what I would tell myself when ASUC drama consumed too many of my weekday nights, when I spent numerous weekends on the road for UC Student Association meetings, when I got on flights to Washington, D.C., for lobby trips or when I left the ASUC Senate chambers to go to Main Stacks for another one of countless all-nighters because I had spent all day in meetings with administrators, at work or in class. Burnout is real and exhaustion is real, but because failure is not an option, I — like countless other UC Berkeley students — keep going and and continue to push myself so hard.
Women in leadership is still a concept that our society is wrapping its head around — women of color in leadership even more so. People expect you to be a trailblazer, and you start to expect so much from yourself. You hold this position — whatever it is — not just for yourself, but for all those who came before you and didn’t make it. No pressure.
In my time as a leader on this campus, it’s become clear to me that our society expects things from women that it wouldn’t from any man.
It broke my heart a little bit each time I saw women in power resent each other — either in the ASUC or beyond. In an environment that makes success difficult enough for women as it is, why is it so difficult for women to see other women in power? Is it fear that if there’s only room for so many women at the top, other women won’t be able to make it since someone else already did? It can lead to a world of doubt in your own abilities.
While the ASUC has been the site of some of my most difficult experiences at UC Berkeley, it’s also where I’ve learned incredible lessons about myself and the world around me.
My belief in and passion for the work I do has been reaffirmed by seeing my own and others’ projects succeed — especially when it’s clear that people’s real experiences on this campus are improving (slowly but surely) because of that work. I have come to terms with the fact that one person will not change this campus, but a collective movement will help push it in the right direction. I believe in the power of the women and the transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming folks who will continue to lead this campus, and in the men who will lead as true allies. I have faith. I’ve experienced and understood the strength of community — where all work should be rooted anyway.
I have learned the importance and necessity of cultivating a community that will allow you to find happiness — and more importantly — contentment in your time here. For me, contentment has come to mean peace with where I am. It means being kind to myself. It means being proud of myself. It means comparing my success as a professional and an individual only to my past self and no one else. It means allowing myself the space I need to grow without forcing myself to move faster than I am ready to. UC Berkeley as an entity, your peers, your colleagues, even your friends will sometimes make you feel like you cannot prioritize yourself — don’t buy into it.
Perhaps most importantly, I have discovered my own power and the power of taking chances. In my four years on this campus, I’ve learned to consider every opportunity that comes my way even if it may not seem to “fit the plan.” If I had stuck with my original plan as a freshman, I would never have become a public health major, a senator, or external affairs vice president. I wouldn’t have had the personal or professional experiences that have made my time at UC Berkeley as memorable as it was. This goal can often be complicated by that damn impostor syndrome and the ever-present worry of “what will people say” — but it shouldn’t be. Don’t let it be. So if there’s one piece of advice I would give to incoming freshmen with the wisdom of a graduating senior, it’s this: Be brave in your choices.
For me, choosing the difficult path — the path of seva (public service) — in my time at UC Berkeley has made my experience everything it has culminated into: good, bad, ugly and so rewarding. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Yes, there are days where none of it seems worth the emotional labor. But there are also days where two sophomore girls you have never met before stop you on the bus to tell you how inspiring you are to them — and that reminds me of why representation in these positions on this campus matters so much.
I would like to think my work on this campus has made it an ever so slightly more accepting, accessible and affordable place. I hope that others find it in themselves to continue this work, and that they are kinder to themselves and one another as they do so.
Now, I am ready to move on to new experiences, new learning opportunities and new challenges — onward and upward out of Berkeley!
Nuha Khalfay served as the 2018-19 ASUC external affairs vice president and UC Student Association University Affairs Committee chair. She served as an ASUC senator and chair of the Senate Finance Committee for the 2017-18 academic year. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public health and a minor in French.