Pushing Past the Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt like you’re not really as smart as others think you are? Do you question your capacity to lead? Do you think you’re a fraud? Everyone feels this at some point in their lives, whether academically or professionally. I think it’s natural, so long as you always pull yourself out of that mindset and take a confident step forward. 

No matter how much we manage to accomplish in a day, the imposter syndrome continues to plague us. The term, imposter syndrome, was coined in the 1970’s in relation to high-achieving women. In my experience, on occasion I find myself of two minds – I am confident, smart and capable vs. I am doubtful, unsure, and inadequate. I do my best to show up fully every day, but we will all inevitably make mistakes and doubt ourselves too much at some point. Even simply hitting the publish button for these blog posts can sometimes be daunting for me if I don’t have someone (a.k.a. my dad) review it and make edits first. If it comes back with no edits, I sometimes think he didn’t even read it. 

I read an interesting article a while ago in ChronicleVitae stating that the imposter syndrome is like a “twisted version of the Socratic paradox – the more you know, the more you feel like you know nothing.” This is quite interesting as it is usually high-achieving people who experience the imposter syndrome and in order to feel like you’re a fraud, you need to have already reached a certain level in your field.

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“Is (s)he really better than me at this task?”, “Do I actually suck at my job?”

I’ve written about the imposter syndrome specifically affecting women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields in a previous blog post, but this time I decided to give it a more personal perspective. As women, we can be affected by it quite often, feeling as though it’s only a matter of time before your boss or coworkers figure out that you’re not as smart as they thought you were. This is even more prevalent in minority groups. A study from the University of Texas at Austin found that black students who reported high levels of imposter syndrome also reported high levels of anxiety and depression related to perceived discrimination. 

Up to 70% of high-achieving women experience the imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. It also found that the imposter syndrome occurs significantly less frequently and with less intensity in men. 

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In college/university:

  • A study of undergraduates at Boston College found that female students finished college with lower self-esteem than they started with. While, male students graduated with greater self-confidence and albeit lower GPAs than their female peers.
  • The above survey findings suggested that “the pressure to look/dress a certain way” and “the hookup culture” played a large role. If a female student feels insecure about the college/university culture, that can lead to her feeling less confident in other areas, like the classroom.

In the workplace:

  • Research from Hewlett-Packard found that women only apply to jobs for which they’re 100% qualified, whereas men apply to jobs even when they meet no more than 60% of the requirements.

After reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In a few years ago, I realized that we, women, are also allowing ourselves to be derailed sometimes. Let’s not fuel our failures. 

Sit at the head of the table. Take up space. Let your voice be heard. Ask for a raise.

Here are some quick tips I’ve found throughout my research in women overcoming the imposter syndrome.

Know your worth and know what you’re up against.

Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions.

Build your tribe! Support other women in the same field as you.