Imposter Syndrome: Let's Talk About It

If you’re nearing the end of your college career and you’ve never cried in a professor’s office for any reason, your time is coming. Especially in the psychology department, where it seems everyone was a therapist before a professor, it pretty easy for one sentence to unleash the flood of tears you didn’t even realize you were holding back. “Is everything okay?” and “How are you?” are such simple, non-threatening phrases that, somehow, just strike something deeper within us. The first time I cried in an office was freshman year when a professor told me my school and life plan were not going to work out and I need to change everything. The second time I cried in an office was when I had to tell my professor I wouldn’t be able to finish the work she assigned me because of how busy I was. My eyes were tearing up before she even asked the magic phrase, “What’s really going on?”, and it was the first time I let myself cry over the recent passing of a childhood friend. The third time, however, was after the office visit when a new magic phrase was presented to me: “You’re doing really, really good.”

In hindsight, I’ve always suffered from imposter syndrome; I just didn't have a name for the way I was feeling until within the past year. The belief that my success is based on luck, not skill, and that someone will eventually find out I’m a fraud and not as smart as I come across are all signs of imposter syndrome. Despite physical proof of intelligence and/or success, self-doubt overshadows, producing feelings of inadequacy. It generally impacts women more than men, and it is more often seen at higher-levels of academia or corporate positions. Having a name for the anxieties and doubts I held for myself despite the amount I’ve achieved in my education helped me realize this is a fairly common feeling and I’m not alone in this. Talking about imposter syndrome and letting someone know you’re feeling this way is an important step in overcoming your own doubts. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.

Unsplash/Lacie Slezak (Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash)

I jokingly told my professor at our meeting, “My imposter syndrome is at an all-time high”, a phrase that reflects the large portion of my humor that contains self-deprecation. It’s how I let others know how I’m feeling in a way that doesn’t feel too heavy on the receiver. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the psychology department, it’s that everyone sees right through these ‘small’ statements I make about myself. Because they aren’t just small statements, they represent something much larger than we want to think about or want to experience in their entirety. We still want someone to clue someone in on how we’re feeling, but there is some factor preventing us from wanting to fully reveal the true iceberg. I am here to say: you do not have to let your feelings of imposter syndrome go unnoticed. Because you deserve validation for your hard work, and if you cannot give that to yourself, someone else will until you can. When my professor told me, “You are doing really, really good” after I half-jokingly told her about my imposter syndrome, it changed something in me. That outside validation means the world when your inner voice is trying to discredit your own success.

If you are struggling with imposter syndrome or your friend says something hinting about imposter syndrome, talk about it. Your feelings of inadequacy are not deserved and will continue to fester unless brought up and discussed. Let your professor or boss know you are struggling with these emotions and more than likely they will relate; they probably felt the same way at one time in their lives. They will more likely offer praise and validation if they are aware and acknowledge your experience with imposter syndrome.