When Success Feels Fake: Imposter Syndrome

With college comes a vast variety of emotions: xcitement and nervousness about starting a new chapter of life, confusion about choosing a major, and anticipation about taking advantage of new opportunities are all common feelings to experience. Some of these emotions are helpful, while others can be debilitating. Take, for example, the sensation of being a fraud. A person could think that all of their successes are due to luck or earning another’s sympathy, and feel guilty about this. They may feel fear that someday that luck will run out, and their lack of knowledge will become apparent. They could feel that they do not belong with their peers, and will never fit in. Does any of this sound familiar?

If you have experienced those feelings, you are far from alone. This is, unfortunately, an incredibly common sensation. You are one of an estimated 70% of people that have experienced imposter syndrome, also called imposter phenomenon by psychologists. First described in 1978 by the psychologists Dr. Suzanne Imes and Dr. Pauline Rose Clance, imposter syndrome occurs when a person feels their achievements were only gained by luck rather than actual ability or qualifications. Clance further developed a test to see if you experience elements of imposter syndrome, detailing some of the more common thoughts associated with the phenomenon. It is important to identify, as imposter syndrome is known to cause difficulty accomplishing tasks that are fully within a person’s abilities, and cause them to miss out on opportunities. It is also associated with anxiety and depression. Understanding the feelings and knowing why it is you feel this way is crucial is overcoming the obstacles created.

An explanation for how common imposter syndrome is rests in the emphasis society places on achievement today. This often starts in childhood, where children feel the need to meet parents’ expectations, or be as successful as siblings in school. In addition, people that are minorities in their field can feel like they don’t fit in with their peers. Stereotypes just enhance this experience, as a person may match neither the characteristics of their peers nor the stereotype, so they end up feeling excluded from any of the groups of which they are a part. Yet another common source of imposter syndrome is setting out on a new endeavor. This can include, but is not limited to, starting college, pursuing a major, or just becoming an adult. In other words, 20-somethings are particularly perceptible to this phenomenon, though anyone throughout their life may feel this way.

Identifying that you experience aspects of imposter syndrome is the first step to conquering it, but for many this is not enough. There are other steps you can take. For one, you can find someone that you can talk to about your fears and doubts. This could be a therapist or a mentor that can help you learn to accept your successes. Anyone that you can trust to be encouraging and help you find your place can help, really. It may be beneficial to make a list of your accomplishments so that you can look over what you have achieved when you’re feeling low. Remember that no one is perfect, even though that is hard to accept sometimes. Try to set reasonable goals for yourself so that more things can feel like a success. In all probability, the people around you feel something like frauds themselves. Together, you each know different things and can help each other. Know that this is a very common experience, that you have a place in your chosen field, and that you are not alone.

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