Embrace Your Imposter Syndrome
Everybody feels it.
Imposter syndrome can be a beast. At the beginning of the school year I got an email from an incoming freshman at Stanford, who was suffering from a classic case. She had decided to pursue a Computer Science major, but was feeling afraid of approaching professors and research groups to ask for work.
The reason? She didn’t have an extensive background in CS already, just a high school class and some self-teaching. She felt completely intimidated by her classmates, who all seemed to have the knowledge she lacked.
She asked me point blank - how could she overcome her imposter syndrome?
Her email struck a chord with me. Even though I’ve got three Ivy League degrees, sometimes I worry that I’ll be found out as a fraud. The fear that you’re not as smart as people think is ubiquitous among high-achievers.
So my first word of advice to this Stanford student?
You are totally normal. Feeling outmatched is par for the course. Everybody goes through it.
Experts agree. L.V. Anderson writes in her Slate article on imposter syndrome:
“…moderate impostorism might just be a sign that you’re a normal, mildly insecure, conscientious person.”
In other words, perfect confidence isn’t an asset. Mild imposter syndrome might just be a side-effect of healthy self-awareness. It can be helpful to know that feelings of being an imposter persist across all demographic groups - not just women in STEM fields. The problem is when we let those feelings hold us back.
Here’s where this student will have a real advantage. Now she knows that everybody feels like an imposter sometimes. The knowledge that you’re not alone can be a real superpower. It lets you walk through the world knowing that everybody who intimidates you has felt the same.
To anybody who’s feeling like an imposter - you’ve made it where you are for a reason.
You’ll figure out the rest soon enough. Just remember that everybody on Earth is still figuring things out, whether it be at school, a new job, or any other life adventures.
And if you’ve overcome imposter syndrome, we’d love to hear your advice. Please share it with the helpful community on BrightCrowd.