Imposter syndrome is an internal experience that causes people to feel that they are not competent enough, even when it is untrue. It leads them to feeling that they do not belong at that college, job, the seat at that table. Imposter syndrome has taken a toll on me in high school and college. The first instance in which I recognized I had it, was when I went to a private Christian school taught by mostly American missionaries. I had teachers and mentors in my life, who told me that I was not good enough, fully convincing me that I was not capable of succeeding in academia or any aspect of my life when I struggled with my mental health. I began internalizing self-doubt and it led me to not even try in my academics and disregard my physical and mental wellbeing.
I recently came across a New York Times article written by Jessica Bennett, which pointed out that women are more likely to undermine their performance, while men are more likely to overestimate their work. The article also dealt with how to overcome imposter syndrome, which disproportionately affects women. The former is an important reality to acknowledge and bring up in this personal piece, because I find it representative of my life. Although I wish my being a woman did not affect the imposter feeling, social biases do play a role in it and I had to take the initiative of not allowing those biases and undermining of my expertise, lead to self-doubt.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome is something I have prioritized in this season of my life. We are able to better our spiritual, physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as our academic and work environment, when we learn to not tolerate those feelings of self-doubt.
There is a great amount of advice out there on how to combat the imposter feeling, the following are steps I have taken to do so:
- Words of affirmation for myself. When I was a freshman in college, I took a class titled “Mindful Living”. It is one of the best classes I have taken in my life, it provided me with coping mechanisms, managing emotions and exercises to increase mindfulness. We definitely need more classes like that on course catalogs across educational institutions. We read a book titled “Good Morning, I Love You” by Shauna Shapiro. The book provides readers with practices on calmness and clarity. Our professor, influenced by the book, encouraged us to touch our hearts every morning when we wake up and say something kind to ourselves. Practicing gentleness with yourself is such a priority in overcoming imposter syndrome. Now when I wake up, I also remind myself that I am competent enough, that I deserve a seat at the table.
- Put your expertise out there. DO NOT undermine your capabilities or refuse to raise your hand in class discussions, refuse to apply to that college, job or internship. A lot of times people who doubt themselves, have the fear that they might be wrong or not get the position. But part of overcoming the imposter feeling, is not basing your worth and perception of your capabilities on a moment where you might have been wrong or a position that you did not obtain.
- Make a list and give yourself reminders. Write down instances in which you felt qualified, or attributes of yours that represent your talents and capabilities. If you struggle with making a list on your own, talk with a trusted friend to remind you of areas in your life where you represent competence. You might want to rewrite some of that list on post-it notes or make random pop up reminders on your laptop.