Conquering Imposter Syndrome
By: Chelsea Tobias, M.Ed./Ed.S.
“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.” – Tina Fey
What is it?
“I feel like a fraud.”
I can’t remember the first time I noticed it, but it’s been the voice in the back of my head that has been following me through each increment of my academic and professional life. This voice has told me I’m not good enough, that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I don’t belong. It has been my companion through many an existential crisis and has convinced me everyone is just too nice to tell me, “what are you even doing here?” It’s silenced me from speaking up and sharing my voice or even just trying new things.
It turns out, there’s a name for this voice, and it’s called imposter syndrome. “Not an actual disorder, this term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1928, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have.” (Dalla-Camina, 2018)
Where does it come from?
The unfortunate side of imposter syndrome is the more success and achievement you gain, the more pronounced it can become. Success is attributed to external factors or just plain luck and can result in feelings of guilt. Like you didn’t actually deserve this over others or you just “tricked” your boss into hiring you and you’re just waiting for the day until they realize their mistake.
As Dalla-Camina (2018) cites, other factors may lead towards a predisposition towards imposter syndrome, including a “tendency toward perfectionism, fear of failure, or a continually undermining one’s achievements.” The irony here is that this implies a shift in mindset to taking risks and embracing failure in order to acknowledge we are worthy and deserve our success.
Another layer to this is sometimes, it’s just hard to grapple with our own identities as a professional. Maybe you are the minority in your field or industry and can’t identify or relate with any of your new peers. If this is your first full-time professional job, it can be hard to let go of thinking of yourself as anything but a student. Or perhaps, there is still uncertainty that you chose the right path. Part of entering the “world of work” is figuring out who you are as a professional and developing congruence between your personal and professional identity. That can take a while to develop and when it’s not there, it is easy to feel inauthentic, like you don’t belong.
What can you do about it?
Name and accept the feeling. It’s okay to feel this way and a lot of people do. It may be uncomfortable, but it can be powerful to name and accept these feelings, sit with them, and let them pass. And eventually the more you do this, it becomes less of a big deal and easier to talk about.
Reframe your self-talk: Get in the habit of reminding yourself of the evidence of why you deserve what you have when these thoughts of unworthiness start to creep in, until it becomes a reflex. If it helps, keep a list or a “happy box” of reminders of your past successes to turn to when you need it.
Cultivate a growth mindset. Focus on the learning or process of something rather than the result. Embrace challenges, be open to feedback, and understand that just because something is hard for you now, doesn’t mean it will always be difficult.
Embrace failure and vulnerability. Let go of the need to be – or appear — perfect or the best. Allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to make mistakes or show a weakness. Even if you don’t know the answer to a question or how to do something, try it out. This is where the learning happens.
Talk about it. Talking to your peers, a counselor, or even your supervisor about these thoughts and feelings can help to normalize them and work through them. Start a dialogue with your supervisor, or others that you trust, and ask for constructive and specific feedback – and then trust them to give it.
Remind yourself as much as you can: You are enough.
Dalla-Camina, M. (2018, September 3). The reality of imposter syndrome: Feeling like an imposter? Know what it is and what to do about it. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/real-women/201809/the-reality-imposter-syndrome.