Imposter Syndrome: What It Really Is and Why It's Time to Send It Packing

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary aptly defines imposter syndrome as, “a false and sometimes crippling belief that one's successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill.” I, not a dictionary, define it as, “that little voice in your head that is saying you suck and that you’re one step away from total life ruin.” Whichever definition you choose to accept as truth, here’s something you can’t deny: imposter syndrome is very real and most people you know struggle with it; even the cool, collected ones that seem to have their life together. 

Imposter syndrome, first known as “imposter phenomenon,” was a term coined by two kick-ass female researchers (Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes) who did a case study on high-achieving women in the ’70s. The tl;dr version of the research study​ is that 150 high-achieving women didn’t see their achievements as the result of hard work, knowledge or dedication to their position, just as mere luck or an overestimation of their abilities by higher-ups. These women were formally recognized in their fields, exalted by their peers and showed incredible academic ability through their educational careers, but none of them were able to accept their accomplishments as something they earned, even when the world around them loudly proclaimed otherwise.

Although the study’s findings focus on these accomplished women, our two researchers extended the study to men and found that the imposter phenomenon was less prevalent among them and didn’t affect them as much as our lauded women. This is where my imposter syndrome research got extremely interesting and began to delve into the world of women’s history. 

Courtesy: A Zillion Dollar Comics

How is it, that a male and a female, with similar positions and similar achievements, hold themselves in such starkly different states of self-esteem? The answer is simple. One has been awarded and regaled all their life and the other has had to fight societal conventions and break through glass ceilings to reach the top.

Historically, women have essentially been told to sit down and shut up. Those who didn’t listen found themselves immortalized in the words of history books, on the lips of storytellers. We all know of Joan of Arc or Rosa Parks, but we don’t know High-Achieving Woman #43 in the case study and the reason why is heartbreaking. Rosa Parks believed in herself long enough to refuse to give up her spot, but #43 didn’t believe in herself long enough to contribute to a case study. 

Imposter syndrome is painful and it is time for everyone to collectively kick it to the curb. In the morning, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am strong. I am beautiful. I am worthy of all the blessings coming my way.” Because simply put: you are. The voice in your head, the false belief you hold close is just that, a false belief, and one that may be stopping you from reaching your wildest dreams. Like Arya Stark, when imposter syndrome comes knocking, we say, “Not today.” We are all strong, we are all talented, and above everything else, we are all enough.