What if they find out that I don’t really belong here?
If you’ve ever asked yourself that question, you may be suffering from Impostor Syndrome – a term used to describe people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments. You may downplay your successes and may feel that you are not truly deserving of your accomplishments – that they were a result of good luck, timing, or deceiving others into believing that you are more intelligent or capable than you actually are. Impostor Syndrome is particularly common among diligent, high-achieving women.
When I applied to a master’s degree program in HR at a highly competitive business school, I thought it was a long shot. My GRE scores were excellent, but my GPA was a little below average for students accepted into the program, and I had zero confidence in the essay I had submitted with my application.
When I found out that I had been accepted into the program, I was ecstatic, but I genuinely believed that I would be the dumbest person in the program. I later realized that this was not true – I wasn’t the smartest person in my cohort, but I certainly wasn’t the least intelligent. Still, I struggled with feelings that I didn’t really “belong” there. I often wondered if I truly deserved to be there or if I was competent enough to withstand the pressure of graduate school.
I finished my master’s degree with a 3.75 GPA, which begs the question: why did I feel unworthy of being there?
When I pondered this question, I realized that I have felt the same way at almost every job I’ve had. Aside from my past retail jobs and a couple of jobs that I was way overqualified for, I’ve felt undeserving of all of the jobs I’ve had.
Instead of believing that I landed the job because I was the best candidate, because I worked hard, or because I’m intelligent…I always thought that I got the job because I had deceived someone into believing that I was more intelligent/capable than I really am or that I got the job simply because of some good luck.
I work incredibly hard, not only because I believe in the value of hard work, but also because I am trying to make up for my perceived inadequacy. I may not be the smartest person or the most extroverted person, but I can be the hardest worker.
I’ve had these thoughts:
- They think I’m really smart because I went to a competitive school and received a good GPA, but what if they find out I’m not as smart as they think I am?
- What if they find out I’m less competent than they think I am?
- Do I really have enough experience to do this job? What if they realize I can’t do this job as well as they thought I could?
- If I work hard enough, maybe that will make up for not being as intelligent or as capable as they thought I was.
Have you had similar thoughts? Unless you are a sociopath who deceives people for fun, you probably aren’t “deceiving” anyone by pretending to be more intelligent and capable than you really are – it’s much more likely that you are just as intelligent and competent as they believe you are.
If you find yourself feeling like an “impostor” sometimes, try these tips for dealing with Impostor Syndrome.
Talk About It
Talk to friends, family members, or mentors about your feelings. You may be surprised to learn that others have felt the same way at some point in their lives. Sometimes even the most intelligent, successful, and competent people have felt like “impostors.”
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone you know about your “impostor” feelings, another option is to discuss your feelings with a trained therapist. The counselor may also be able to help you to change your negative thought patterns and to focus on your accomplishments.
Develop a Support System
Develop a strong support system. Nurture friendships with people who believe in building others up rather than tearing them down. Avoid relationships with people who are constantly criticizing you, minimizing your accomplishments, and diminishing your self-esteem. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re surrounded by negativity and criticism.
Reflect on Your Feelings
Reflect upon your “impostor” feelings. Why do you think you feel this way? Recognize that your perceptions may be inaccurate. Consider all of the times when you have received positive feedback for your performance at work or school.
Remember Your Accomplishments
When you’re feeling like a fraud, make a list of your accomplishments and success stories. Think about all of your positive traits (such as your organizational skills, your attention to detail, or your ability to see the big picture) that enabled you to succeed. Focus on the positive instead of fixating on any negative experiences you’ve had.
Have you ever felt like an “impostor?” What strategies do you find helpful for dealing with these feelings?