Note: I recently wrote this piece for my company’s home page, and I received many requests to make this shareable on other platforms viewable to people outside of our company. I also received an overwhelming amount of responses from people who, like me, suffer from this syndrome. Many people resonated with it, saying I was reading their mind. Many thanked me for putting a name to their feelings. Even more admitted that they have suffered from this their entire lives and are thankful they are not the only ones. So, I’d like to share it with you, too, in hopes that if you also suffer from these feelings of self-doubt, you will come to realize that you are not alone and that you are more than capable of anything you set your mind to.
I suffer from impostor syndrome. In fact, even as I first sat down to write this I thought to myself, “Why are you writing about this? You don’t have the credibility to talk about this.”
I’m not here to spill the secrets on how to overcome impostor syndrome. Quite frankly, I don’t have them. What I do have to share are stories on how this has manifested in me, how I came to acknowledge that I am the poster child for impostor syndrome, and the never-ending journey I embark on each day to fight it.
If you are reading this, there is a good chance you have or will experience this syndrome at least one point in your life. But despite affecting a large percentage of the population in both men and women, I have never heard someone openly admit they suffer from this phenomenon in the workplace, at college, or in any other professional setting. So here I am, openly admitting and vulnerably sharing my experiences with you in hopes of normalizing this battle for everyone.
In college, despite graduating top of my class with a perfect GPA, I always told myself I was just really good at making things up on the fly and I wasn’t actually smart. I lived in fear, studying an overwhelming amount of hours for each exam because I was convinced each exam would be the tipping point to prove I was a fraud. When I landed a competitive internship after my freshman year, and two more including one at Lockheed Martin before graduation, I was sure it was just because I knew the right person (though of course that was also a factor), not that I was actually capable.
Fast forward to now – I still undermine the validity of my work as I’ve convinced myself I’m not qualified for this job, that I’m only appearing to succeed. How does this manifest itself? Sometimes I stumble over words in the presence of management for fear I’m going to say all the wrong things (then newsflash, I do because I’m so caught up in my head that I’m not thinking clearly). I take things personally when I shouldn’t because my brain says, “Yep, I told you they don’t want you here.” And sometimes when I receive an assignment I’ve never worked on before, despite never once majorly failing, I feel absolutely positive that I am not competent enough to do it.
Outside of work, I run a burgeoning science communication platform (@TheGalacticGal) and in that endeavor too, questioning my competency and credibility is as habitual as brushing my teeth. Before I started The Galactic Gal, I had never heard of impostor syndrome. I assumed I was the only person in the world who felt like this because again, no one really talks about it. But then I started seeing fellow science communicators talking about this thing called the “impostor phenomenon,” and so I began to read about it. That experience was like reading my Myers-Briggs or Enneagram type – “Wow. This. Is. Me.” From that point on, I no longer felt like something was “wrong with me.” I didn’t feel like I was alone, because I’m not – it’s estimated that over 70% of the population feels this at some point in their life. That means you aren’t alone either.
Below are some tips I’ve found to be helpful for battling impostor syndrome:
- Break the stigma – Talk to your colleagues about it. Chances are, I bet they’re feeling the exact same way. And sharing those feelings out loud (or over Skype/Zoom) can help you overcome them, or at least help you know that you’re not alone.
- Speak up – Impostor syndrome can make you feel like you don’t have the knowledge or the know-how to contribute meaningfully in meetings. If you’re included on a meeting notice, you are there for a reason. You do have something meaningful to contribute. Make it a goal to speak up at least once in every meeting you’re in.
- Minimize self-deprecating thoughts – It’s an unfortunate reality but we all self-deprecate from time to time. Minimize those thoughts by challenging them with one success you’ve had recently. Create a list of all your achievements over your lifetime if that is helpful to remind you when you are being hard on yourself.
Despite what your brain tries to (literally) brainwash you with, you do belong here, you are more than competent, and you are successful.