Imposter Syndrome: What Is It, & How Do You Overcome It?

Most people grow up feeling eager to enter adulthood and gain the freedom and life they've spent the last so many years dreaming of, but once you reach the 'real world’, you may discover that it's not quite like you thought it would be. As you continue to get older, achieve your goals and move into different stages of life with new ambitions, you may face certain doubts in yourself, and they may be completely unfounded. According to Carla Isabel Carstens, an entrepreneur, career coach, and founder of Free Fashion Internships, if this feels familiar, you may be experiencing Imposter Syndrome. 

Carstens defines imposter syndrome for Her Campus as “the voice in your head telling you that you’re a fraud, and that you don’t deserve that feeling of success or competency because you didn’t earn it, when in actuality, you did.” Although it’s not specific to recent graduates entering the workforce, it is something our generation seems to feel often, even if they don't realize it. This might have to do in part with our upbringing, always told we could do anything growing up and having to come to terms with the fact that most of us actually can’t, or going through high school in honors or gifted programs with ease and then feeling shell-shocked at the difficulty of your first college class.

So how do we recognize that nagging voice in our heads for what it is, and what can we do about it?

a man and a woman sit on a park bench looking frustrated Vera Arsic | Pexels

Is what you’re feeling a case of Imposter Syndrome?

For post-grads, one place imposter syndrome may stem from is the inability to find a job, even though you may be a fully qualified candidate. Rejection after rejection will wear anybody down, and can leave you wondering if you really belong in your chosen field. On the other hand, you may have already scored your first job–maybe your last internship site really loved you and they transitioned you to a full-fledged employee! But, instead of excitement, you can’t help but to feel like you just got lucky, despite your qualifications, and wonder every day when your colleagues will see through you and realize that you don’t really belong. But you graduated college! You got your degree, after hours upon hours of coursework and internships, and despite that uneasy feeling in the back of your mind, you know what you’re doing. Everyone has to start somewhere, and that negativity constantly swirling through your mind will only bring you down, affecting how you do your job.

So how can you beat that negativity?

Imposter Syndrome, especially in recent graduates, is a lot more common than you may realize, and the first step in overcoming it is acknowledging that it's affecting you. Identifying these feelings as Imposter Syndrome and coming to terms with them will allow you to move towards overcoming it. If this is a struggle of yours, please know that it is totally okay to seek help–it may even be a necessity. This could be as minimal as finding little ways to think positively during times of hopelessness or feeling inferior, or it could mean reaching out to a therapist.

1. Picture yourself coming upon a stop sign 

According to Carstens, there are many different ways to cope with Imposter Syndrome. Carstens points out that your emotions do not always tell the truth. Your feelings are valid, but while they seem real in the moment, there is a major difference in feeling stupid and actually being stupid. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of negative self-talk. One thing you can try is to think of a stop sign once you recognize those thoughts creeping in. Thinking of the stop sign is your way of telling yourself that you are aware of what is going on, and to stop it. Think to yourself, “Why am I letting these thoughts get to myself? I need to stop and realize everything happens for a reason and I am stronger than this negativity.” It’s easier said than done but, in the end, positive thoughts lead to a better life. Don’t let your inner demons win.

2. Lean on your people

Confide in the people you trust and the people who have your best interests at heart. Hiding how you feel will likely make you feel worse, and even more like an imposter, lurking in the shadows. Go to your loved ones and open up. Not only does it get it off of your chest, but you may find that your loved ones are also struggling and weren’t completely sure what was going on, or that they’ve been in your position before. In the end, you can find another way of coping by being there for each other and going through it together.

3. Look on the bright side

Look for the positives amongst the negativity. The things you're feeling are a sign that you truly care about what you’re doing and where you’re going in the future. According to Carstens, “Mastery only comes from passion, persistence and practice. Figure out what you can learn from the situation, and move on.” So ask for feedback if you're truly concerned that you're not doing as well as you should be. Don’t let the negatives get to you, but instead take them and run the other way with them, and use them to become the best version of you. 

Now is the time to do so, before you let it destroy you. You can let the negativity win, or you can fight it and turn yourself into the person you've always wanted to be. Staying positive is easier said than done, but negativity gets you nowhere.

4. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else

Avoid comparison. Grasp the fact that Bill Gates wasn’t born a billionaire. “We all start somewhere, and that path inevitably involves failure. Your success hinges on your ability to overcome obstacles,” Carstens says. Accept that there will be highs and lows throughout your life, and don’t expect success to happen overnight. Your future relies heavily on your mindset, so set your goals and aim high. Michael Phelps once said, “There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.” Realizing this and controlling the negative thoughts are the keys to success. Once you accept that, no one can stop you.

Growing up, we all go through the same stages at the same time. Once you graduate college, you all go in your own directions and move at your own pace. Comparing yourself to someone else is normal, and especially in this generation of social media. It is so important to remember that someone’s life may look perfect on social media, but realistically, they probably have similar struggles. You may be struggling to find yourself, while your best friend has landed her dream job right out of college. That's okay. There is a plan for you and in the end, it will all make sense. Until then, keep your head up, let your strengths shine and use this time to build up your self-confidence.

a man sits on outdoor steps in a white hoodie with his hands behind his neck looking frustrated hamedmehrnik | Pixabay In the end, you're not alone. This feeling is not uncommon, and there are so many ways to defeat this battle in your head. Most importantly, you have the ability to reroute your way of thinking–remind yourself that you are absolutely qualified to be doing what you are–and once you do, it’ll be a huge weight off your shoulders. Don’t give up on yourself, and just remember that difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations, and it will all be worth it.