Working With Imposter Syndrome

Imagine feeling like no matter what you do, all of your success is going to crash at your feet. It is inevitable. You didn’t deserve any of this. You didn’t earn any of this.

Needless to say, Imposter Syndrome is a continuous pain.

But what is it exactly? The term was coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes to describe high achieving individuals that feel as if their success is undeserved. Instead of recognizing their own intelligence, the “imposters” feel that their success is due to aspects of luck rather than their own ability or hard work. To make matters worse, these “imposters” live in constant fear of being discovered as the “fakes” they perceive themselves to be.

I’ve grown enough in the past year to recognize this in my own life, yet I still have difficulty accepting it. Even in this article, I’m choosing my words carefully to avoid falling into the trap of condemning my own work. However, there’s still that nagging voice lurking in the back of my mind: I can’t have imposter syndrome. I’m average. Despite consistently earning grades that allow me to keep my honours specialization and having numerous creative publications under my belt, I don’t see myself as high achieving at all.

It’s been a long road. I’m definitely far from the end of it, but these points help make living with Imposter Syndrome a little more bearable.

BEING CHALLENGED ISN’T NECESSARILY A BAD THING

Due to past experience, many “imposters” feel a pressure to naturally excel at whatever task they come across. Whether a task requires little effort or brings a bit of struggling, actually working at a task brings about a sense of failure for “imposters.” But haven’t challenges been proven to be indicative of learning? No toddler can read without struggling through the process of sounding out letters and how they fit together. You can’t expect yourself to grasp something new instantaneously.

GIVE YOURSELF SOME CREDIT

On the other hand, “imposters” also feel that their natural success must only be due to luck and chance. Whether you’re writing an exam or solving a math problem, your brain is doing some work, even if it feels effortless. If it does, that’s evidence you’ve done your homework. Even if it doesn’t feel effortless, it is the sum of your experience and thinking that has gotten you to this point. No one comes out of the womb knowing how fractions work, and no one is lucky enough to wing the first 20 years of their lives without a bit of struggle or failure.

LOOK AT HOW YOU RESPOND TO OTHERS IN THE SAME SITUATION

It’s the first assignment of the semester and your essay got a 76%. You’re dying. But your friend got a 75%. Wouldn’t you try to be supportive of them? Every time it’s someone else’s problem, I find myself saying something along the lines of, “There are two more essays, plus the exam, plus the midterm. There’s always one you get to screw up. You fail, you get up, you do better on the next one. That’s what the comments are for.” But somehow this isn’t good enough if it were my essay. The key here is to realize that if someone else can screw up an essay and still succeed in the course, so can you.

ASK FOR HELP

“Imposters” often think that intelligence is a set quality; needing to ask for help themselves implies weakness and failure. However, dooming yourself to a cycle of struggle is much more damaging than allowing yourself to be open with people you trust. Sometimes it takes another person—or a lot of supportive peers—to realize your work is valid, or that what you’re doing may be more harmful than helpful.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PACE YOURSELF

Know you are capable of success; this doesn’t mean you need to overwork to truly “earn” it. Be aware when something becomes too much. Don’t do what I did and work a 40 hour work week with an extended course load. Take a day off and try to practice self care, whatever that is to you. Remember that losing 2% on an essay for an extra day is better than getting a grade that’s 10% lower because you rushed it—and it’s definitely worth taking care of your mental health.

Imposter Syndrome won’t be fixed overnight, but keeping these points in mind can help ease the weight. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. You’ve earned it. Remember, productivity isn’t everything; make sure you take care of yourself. You’ve earned that too.

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