Imposter Syndrome: What it is and How to Beat It

 

 

Have you ever felt like you don’t completely belong within your field? Like you don’t know as much as the people around you, or you just aren’t as efficient as your peers? Do you feel like you are tricking everyone? Like your colleagues will wake up one day and realize your incompetence, marking you as a fraud? 

Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern that causes people to doubt their own skills or accomplishments within a certain aspect of their lives—usually work. It’s an insecurity that leaves people feeling anxious about whether or not they actually deserve to be where they are. Many times, these people believe that they are just lucky, not talented, and that they have to be 100% perfect all the time so that nobody else will realize it. 

I personally have suffered from Imposter Syndrome since I started college. You see, I grew up in a tiny ranching town, where I graduated at the top of my class with a great GPA and some college credits already under my sleeve. I wasn’t used to being confused or feeling challenged; I was the ‘smart kid’ in my classes, and I felt comfortable in that position. That changed when I came to college. Suddenly I found myself in a new city, taking up a STEM major in a subject that I had never even seen before: Computer Science. It felt like I was the only person in the class that hadn’t learned software engineering in high school. While I was learning the framework of my first program, my classmates were already designing their own games, and I felt like I was in over my head. 

Despite good grades and encouragement from various professors, I continued to feel incompetent through my first two years of college. I didn’t apply for internships, conferences, or tech jobs because I didn’t feel experienced enough to be considered for those positions. I had a hard time with a lot of my assignments, and I felt discouraged when I couldn’t figure things out as easily as I did in high school. It wasn’t until my junior year that I heard the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ used for the first time in a conference, and I realized that I was being far too hard on myself. The truth was that I was deathly afraid of failure, and I was letting that fear hold me back from a lot of great opportunities. Now, I am learning how to trust failure as a part of the learning process.

According to Dr. Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, there are five different causes of this syndrome. The first is the Perfectionist, who sets their expectations impossibly high, then feels like a failure when they don’t live up to their own standards. The second is the Superwoman (or Superman), who works far harder than necessary to convince themselves that they have earned their accomplishments or positions. Next, we have the Natural Genius, who gets frustrated with themselves when they can’t master something on their own or on the first try. The Soloist, who is fourth on the list, is the one who hates to ask for help or rely on anyone else for assistance. And, finally, the last imposter is the Expert. This is the person who hoards random knowledge because they never feel as if they know enough, and avoids situations that may take them out of their comfort zone. 

If any of these sounds familiar to you, you probably suffer from Imposter Syndrome as well. Fortunately, the first step in fixing it is identifying what kind of imposter you feel like. If you can see why you feel the way you do, it’s much easier to change your perception and view your skills or accomplishments in a new light. Imposter Syndrome is a fear and insecurity, but more importantly, it is something that can be overcome. With time, patience, and attention, you can turn this syndrome into a powerful motivator for your future career.