On Imposter Syndrome

Do you ever feel like you don’t know what you’re doing? Ever feel out of place on the job or at school? Do you feel afraid to share your accomplishments with others? Do you find yourself responding to compliments with things like “it was a complete accident,” or “I just got lucky”?

Sounds like you have Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is the self-imposed idea that you’ve succeeded at something by luck rather than your own skill or hardwork. It takes the form of crippling self-doubt — downplaying your accomplishments or a reluctance to share them, feeling out of place or behind everyone else, or just feeling like a fraud. Like getting a promotion and being excited ($$$), but self-conscious that they’ll figure out you don’t know what you’re doing. Sharing the promotion with friends but saying it was based on luck because you are afraid they secretly think you didn't deserve it. Fear and anxiety take over your thoughts. Take a moment and breathe - it happens to everyone.

I recently got news on my acceptance into my top graduate program to pursue a Ph.D. and I promise you I thought it was a mistake. I kept imagining I was gonna get a call telling me that they had the wrong applicant name or that they had switched the “reject” and “accept” piles. Besides my family and very close friends, I didn't want to tell anyone until I was certain they weren't playing with me. News that should have excited me terrified me instead. I wondered if they had a small applicant pool this year and were just letting everyone who applied in. I was telling myself the news wasn’t real and that I was just lucky to get in - dismissing my own efforts like I hadn't been working on the application for weeks.

Understand that your thoughts are irrational and re-structure your thoughts to avoid such negative feedback. Recognize that the people complimenting you are not lying. For the most part, we can tell who is being honest with us and who is not. Your hardwork is only paying off. Luck was only part of it if anything. If you were really bad at your job, wouldn’t you gotten fired? Wouldn’t no one have showed up for that event? or read that story you published? You can only get by on luck for so long.

The best way to combat imposter syndrome (according to a quick google search) is to KEEP RECEIPTS. Imposter syndrome manifests as a lack of confidence, self-imposed fear and a disregard of our achievements. The only way to battle with these irrational thoughts and behaviors is logic — proving yourself wrong. When you’re at the end of a journey, it is easy to forget the process that brought you there. All the work you put in behind-the-scenes to get the end result. Keep receipts on the process. Feedback from your professor or supervisor. Compliments from friends or strangers. Look back on the notes planning out your projects so you can see how far you’ve progressed. Anything that will remind you why you’re good at what you’re good at. Revisiting some of the evidence counters any beliefs that you’re a fraud.

It’s okay to be both humble and confident. If you put time and effort into something and it pays off, revel in it. Don’t diminish your efforts by calling it luck or happenstance. All of your little efforts add up and if you take a look back, you shouldn’t be surprised when you achieve greatness.

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Zari Taylor