It always starts at different times for people – that feeling that you don’t measure up to your peers, that you will never be good enough. I think it was my freshman year that imposter syndrome first started sinking its sharp claws into my back. At first, it’s slow, you barely notice the feelings of inadequacy, but then suddenly it’s there and feels like it’s never going away. You have this monster following you and it’s omnipresent, ruling every decision and relationship you make.
I’m here to tell you that while it might not ever go away, there are ways to change its presence from feeling like a scary monster creeping in the dark to just another love bug flying around Gainesville, annoying but generally harmless:
Participate in things that you enjoy, not just things that look good on your resume
The worst part of imposter syndrome is arguably the feeling that no matter what you do, it will never be enough. Based on my own experiences after two and a half years in college, and talking with medical students and doctors, this feeling unfortunately does not go away. However, you can minimize its impact on your life. Pick extracurricular activities that are interesting to you, that you are excited to participate in. Do not pick extracurricular that you dread all for a line on a resume. If you feel fulfilled by the end of each experience, then that feeling of not doing enough will eventually feel smaller, less important.
You don’t have to be miserable in college, graduate school, or your career. Find things you love and enjoy the way you spend your time and the beast that is imposter syndrome will eventually stop roaring so loudly.
You are NOT alone
I can guarantee that you are not the only one struggling, not in your classes, not in your friend group, you probably aren’t even the only one struggling in the Marston Starbucks line. STEM classes in particular are often made to make you feel weighed down by the competition. They are designed based on curves; no longer can you rely on yourself, but your grade becomes a competition with your peers to be in the top 15% of the class. You are not the only victim of this system.
Use this fact to your advantage. Do not be afraid to reach out to the people you surround yourself with, it is more than likely that they can relate to a good portion of your struggles. There is so much power in finding a community that you can vent with and bounce feelings off of. These conversations are important to reassure you that your feelings are valid and normal. It also goes to show no one is immune to the feelings associated with imposter syndrome, likely not even the smartest person you know.
There is power in numbers
What I just said about finding a community is no joke. Surrounding yourself with genuine people who care about your success and your well-being is truly the key to making imposter syndrome less of a battle. People often make light of a woman in STEM, but it can be genuinely difficult at times. Not only do you deal with the weight of feeling like an imposter, like you don’t belong, and like you aren’t doing enough, but you also must deal with society’s expectations for you as a woman. If you’ve seen the “Barbie” movie, you know what expectations I am talking about. A man will never have to plan his education and career around having a family or is thought of as less than because they want to pursue a higher degree.
These added pressures placed on women in a STEM field make it that much harder to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. However, something I have found that helps combat this is to surround yourself with strong women who are doing the same thing as you. There are so many organizations on campus that promote this, it should be easy to find a community of women where none of these pressures exist anymore. Learning how other people cope can also help to improve your own methods. Being a woman in STEM is no laughing matter but finding a group of other strong women to surround yourself with lightens the load.
Imposter syndrome is not fun, but luckily it is something many, many people deal with. Coming to terms with your struggles and finding the right communities and organizations is key to coping with the pest that is imposter syndrome.