The Impostor Syndrome

The incredible Margaux‘s TEDx video Finding Your Voice brought back a lot of memories for me.  I, too, suffer from the Impostor Syndrome

Not a Photoshopped image. Those are really the top results when you Google it.

My first class at graduate school was terrifying. I was starting halfway through the first term. I didn’t know anyone there. I had tried my best to prepare for class – I had even done the six weeks’ worth of methodology readings over the previous weekend (and it had all gone a mile over my head). Sitting down in the classroom I thought to myself:

What am I doing here?  It’s like that scene from Bridget Jones. 

What if someone says, “Get out of here, you are ridiculous!”

At the end of the term I  joined my colleagues for a post-class drink. The dozen or so graduate students in my program (all women, save for two men) pulled tables together, ordered pitchers, and settled down to congratulate ourselves on surviving.

And eventually, one by one, we all said something like, “I can’t believe I made it. I thought for sure I wasn’t good enough for the program, and I’d fail or they’d kick me out.”

Somehow we all had the exact same feeling – that we’d be “found out” as “imposters” – somehow none of us felt like we belonged, or deserved to be there.

But wait.

We couldn’t all be outsiders. We couldn’t all be imposters.

Some of us around the table even knew about the Imposter Syndrome already, but didn’t realize it affected them until they found out someone else felt the same way. We were all incredibly bright individuals, and at school based on our real merits and abilities. Not because we had all duped the university’s administration.

In the years since graduate school I would like to say I have moved beyond feeling like an imposter. And some days, it’s true. Some days I look at my accomplishments and think, Wow, I am pretty awesome. But still, without a doubt, some days all I can think is, Any second these folks are going to find me out and I’ll be done for.

And I don’t know why the Imposter Syndrome particularly affects grad students, or why it particularly affects women. But I do believe it has to do with a need for external recognition, and a failure to appropriately attribute success. And it’s something I’m working on.

Have you ever felt like an imposter in your circle of friends/colleagues/coworkers? How do you deal with it?


3 thoughts on “The Impostor Syndrome

  1. I don’t know if this is imposter syndrome exactly, but I know that professionally, I have a hard time with this. I often feel like a lost 18-year-old (I’m about 10 years too late for that).

    I know my stuff. I do a damn good job. But sometimes I’ll look around a group (this happens usually when I’m teaching a class – NOT GOOD!) and think ‘What am I doing here exactly?’


  2. Pingback: Two pointy sticks | emmajenkin

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