This will be the first of what I expect to be many posts on impostor syndrome, so buckle up!
In brief, impostor syndrome is the feeling that you have tricked your peers, colleagues, and mentors to get into the position you are in today. In your head, you believe you are not good enough for whatever task you are tackling–be that parentho
od, a corporate position, or graduate school–and are filled with anxiety as you await for someone to discover this and out you as a fraud.
Of course, there are plenty of people that actually aren’t good enough. So what’s the difference between an impostor and someone experiencing impostor syndrome?
Given evidence and/or irrefutable proof that someone is not an impostor, the impostor will write off the success as luck or as further evidence that he or she is successfully deceiving people.
Does this sound ridiculous? Like many anxiety issues, even if it sounds like something incredibly easy to solve, the fear is still very real.
Impostor syndrome tends to affect highly intelligent and successful people in all walks of life. Those involved in academia in particular struggle with its effects. Various types of family dynamics during childhood can increase the likelihood of falling victim to the syndrome, and the pressure to succeed (or at least not to fail) is overwhelming. Combined with the inability to internalize success, impostor syndrome can be downright debilitating.
Thankfully for me, I learned about impostor syndrome right before I left for graduate school, so I went in with the expectation that I would experience these feelings.
Guess what? That didn’t help me manage.
Between my OCD, depression, general anxiety, and Type A personality (does anyone ever describe themselves as a Type B personality?) I was a perfect mess for impostor syndrome.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helped me with the impostor syndrome. I was able to identify the intrusive thoug
hts as just that, intrusive thoughts, and file them away. Exposure therapy is also invaluable, forcing you to go out of your comfort zone to see your success in arenas other than those you believe you were born into. Change your mindset.
The important thing to remember is that you are not the only one struggling. Just like with any mental obstacles, impostor syndrome is shared by many people, including those you may not expect: Maya Angelou, Tina Fey, Meryl Streep…oh, and your boss, the star cellist in the orchestra, and your own parents.