Facing Impostor Syndrome

A month or so ago, I went to a presentation in which the lecturer deconstructed the American Dream, highlighting different aspects such as class, financial situations, etc. It was a great presentation, and something that I’ve studied and researched both as a student and in my own free time. She brought up something that I found both troubling and fascinating: impostor syndrome.

Valerie Young , a researcher and ex Fortune 200 employee, delves into this notion of impostor syndrome in her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It. In the questions section on Amazon, Young described impostor syndrome as “…the countless millions of people who do not experience an inner sense of competence or success. Despite often overwhelming evidence of their abilities impostors dismiss them as merely a matter of luck, timing, outside help, charm–even computer error. Because people who have the impostor syndrome feel that they’ve somehow managed to slip through the system undetected, in their mind it’s just a matter of time before they’re found out.”

Unfortunately, I related to this idea right away. I’ve always been the sort of person to say my accomplishments have come from good luck or good timing. Very rarely do I say, “Yeah, I worked my ass off for this, and I deserve it.” Because, in a lot of ways, I don’t know if I do deserve it. I don’t know what makes what I’ve done any better or more worthy of notice than anyone else’s work. That isn’t to say I’m not proud of the work I’ve done; I am. But, I don’t give myself the introspective recognition of a job well done nearly enough.

Case-in-point: In three months and some change, I’m leaving Wisconsin to go to graduate school. I got into a great program that has a plethora of opportunities available for me. And I’m terrified. I’m terrified, because there’s a part of me that’s worried I’ll get there and somehow forget everything I’ve learned. That I won’t be the student they expect me to be, because everything I’ve done up until now has been a case of lucky chances. That I’ll fail.

There’s a part of me that wonders how I’ve managed to get into such a great school. It’s one of the top public universities in the nation, and I somehow got in. It baffles my mind.

So many people are happy, are proud of the fact that I got in. They tell me that I’m ready. That I’m going to do great. I worry I’ll let them down. I worry I’ll let myself down.

This isn’t the sort of mindset I want, though. So, I’ve been working on changing my vocabulary. Every time I mention “luck” or “chance” in correlation with graduate school, I change it to “hard work.” To “I deserve.” It’s done wonders on my thought process, though I’ve got plenty of room left to grow.

I know graduate school will be a challenge. I know it will, at times, be the scariest thing I’ve done. I also know that, contrary to my own beliefs, I can survive. I can succeed. It’ll be a journey, but it’s one I’m ready to take.

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