Have you ever felt like an impostor?
I know I have. I first learned of the phenomenon called “Impostor Syndrome” shortly after I’d confirmed my enrollment at Penn. A classmate had decided on Stanford, and her and I would often discuss our excitements and fears about college. Shortly after we’d gotten our own acceptance letters, another college announced in the media that they had accidentally sent out 500 or so acceptance letters to people who didn’t actually get accepted.
While we both knew we were being unrealistic, we immediately began questioning our own acceptances. What if we had slipped through the cracks? What if we had been mistakenly accepted to our respective universities?
The idea of being mistakenly accepted played into our biggest fear: being impostors. “Impostor Syndrome” is when you believe that in a given setting or role, you are an impostor, and you live in fear that at some point someone will expose you for what you really are.
As I arrived at Penn Freshman year, Impostor Syndrome reared its ugly head. I began meeting peers who had started companies, researched new medical treatments, and gotten perfect IB test scores. And what had I done? It had to be some sort of mistake, I thought. How did I get in? I waited for someone to point their finger at me and exclaim “AHA! We knew you weren’t really qualified to go here!”
I soon realized that everyone else felt the exact same way. No matter how accomplished someone was, they believed that their accomplishments weren’t enough. There was always that guy who had gotten a better summer job, or that guy who was getting A+’s in all of his classes. We all felt like impostors, waiting for everyone else to call us out.
At some point, we have to see this for what it is: a mental illusion. Is it possible that some of us were accepted because we sent in a bikini-clad admissions video Elle-Woods-style? Sure. Is it possible that I was taken at Penn because I’m a token Wyomingite? Maybe. But holding these beliefs is not only absurd, but counterproductive. As long as we believe that we are impostors, we are unable to embrace our successes.
There will always be doubts. Was I hired because I’m a woman? Did they elect me because I was good at making them think I’m a good leader? Am I even a good leader?
These doubts are natural, but long-held, they can stunt our growth and limit our potential. I’ve learned that there is nothing wrong with believing the best. Believe that you’ve gotten where you are because of the work you’ve done, and continue to work hard. Because if someone actually tries to strip away the outer layers and “expose you for who you really are,” at least what they’ll see is someone who’s taken an opportunity they’ve received, and run with it.
Fear can be gripping, but it need not be paralyzing. Life is too short to fail to believe in our own potential.
Have you ever had a case of Impostor Syndrome? Did you overcome it?
Inspired by today’s Daily Post prompt.