In all honesty, I didn’t even know what imposter syndrome was until only a couple of years ago. I went through high school and everything seemed to come easily. I was getting good grades, held numerous leadership positions in various clubs and played on my school’s varsity team; I felt as if I had earned everything I had accomplished and succeeded in. It wasn’t until I got to college that I was surrounded by students who I felt were way more talented, hard-working, intelligent and overall deserving of praise than I ever was.
I took a huge blow to my confidence, and I even debated if medicine was the right path for me anymore. The worse I felt, the worse I performed in my clinicals or on exams, and it soon became a vicious cycle. If I sat down and thought about it, I knew in my head that I was just as qualified as those around me to pursue medicine and that I had the potential to succeed, but I didn’t feel that way deep down.
I eventually was able to put a label on how I was feeling: imposter syndrome. Harvard business review defines imposter syndrome as, “A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success,” and explains that imposters struggle with self-doubt. I researched countless ways that I could stop myself from feeling this way, but even so, it took weeks for me to begin feeling better and regain my confidence. I have included three of my favorite techniques that helped me overcome my imposter syndrome below.
- Reframe failure.
Part of what contributed to my imposter syndrome was my perfectionist tendencies. I placed extremely high expectations on myself and would beat myself up for anything that went wrong, no matter how small. I had to think about the reality of the situation. I would get down on myself when an attending physician would ask me a medical question and I answered incorrectly or simply had no idea what the answer could be. I changed my mindset from viewing it as a failure to an opportunity to learn. After all, I’m still just a student and it’s unreasonable of me to think I’ll know all the answers.
- Track your accomplishments.
It’s hard to visualize you improving and reaching your goals if you don’t actively track them. Being able to measure your success can show you that you aren’t an imposter and have earned your position. The way that you measure your success can vary depending on what you are trying to achieve. For me, I wanted to improve my exam results and perform better in clinicals when asked questions regarding diseases and various patient conditions. I’ve created a sort of “memory folder” on my phone that reminds me of my progress, whether that means a screenshot of an exam I did well on or a note that a patient wrote me saying they appreciated my efforts — really anything that made me feel as if this is where I’m supposed to be. It allows me to go back and see all the good that I’ve done and the impact that I can make if I continue my studies.
- Fake it till you make it.
Gaining confidence takes time, but honestly, some of the people you think are the most confident are simply putting up that façade. Don’t wait until you feel confident enough to take on bigger responsibilities and tasks; being courageous and taking those risks will allow you to see just how much you are capable of. Play the part until it becomes natural and, with time, the confidence that you are “faking” will become real.
When dealing with my imposter syndrome, I often felt alone. I felt as if everyone else had it all together except for me. Sharing your feelings with friends or supervisors can make you realize that you are not the only one that has those feelings. Don’t let yourself become your own worst enemy; believe in yourself and your abilities instead. You have earned everything that you have accomplished, and you’re capable of so much more.