Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

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Over the years, we’ve heard a lot of professional advice from well-meaning friends, family, and school officials. The adage “Fake it till you make it.” is a familiar one. We also heard that we should apply for a job even if we are only 50% qualified (because presumably we can fake the rest), or that it was okay to fudge on your resume. All these little micro-level deceptions can take a toll on our sense of self-worth. Feeling like a fraud or a liar who will be uncovered at any moment is often the result of us taking to heart these and other seemingly innocuous pieces of advice. Unfortunately, we are setting ourselves up to experience Imposter Syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome? Essentially having the sense that you will be discovered as a fraud. Although “faking it till making it” relies on your consciously deceiving yourself and your employer, Imposter Syndrome more often than not comes about even though there was no deception at all. You did work hard for your achievements, and you actually deserve the recognition that comes with a new position. In the face of all that evidence, you still feel like a fraud. Where does that feeling come from?

Psychology research has found that Imposter Syndrome comes from growing up in an environment where over-achievement was prioritized over developing a well-rounded sense of self. Since most of us are overachievers, we can see why Imposter Syndrome impacts so many Collegiate Gigsters. Often, we experience Imposter Syndrome without ever realizing it. We think this sort of anxiety is normal. There are things you can do to deal with this syndrome and work to create a more balanced sense of self:

  • Talk with people you trust
  • Do a Knowledge Inventory (see list below for a guide on things to consider)
  • Recognize that we are all becoming, and therefore are not perfect

As you go through this process, your thinking will shift and you will start developing a sense of self that is grounded in reality and well-rounded. Overachievement, by definition, has external motivations built in to it. We look to others to compare ourselves and determine the value of our accomplishments. That way of thinking can set you up for failure by distracting you from seeing the greatness of what you may already have accomplished. Collegiate Gigsters are highly accomplished, intelligent people. As such we should be on the look-out for when the Imposter Syndrome rears its head. One way to have a better sense of accomplishments is to outline them into what I call a Knowledge Inventory.

The Knowledge Inventory Guide

Use the categories below to jot down the things that you have accomplished that are important to you. In other words, outline what things add to your value and self-worth. By doing this Knowledge Inventory, you ground yourself and keep the Imposter Syndrome in check.

  1. Intellectual Capital: Degrees, Certifications, etc.
  2. Social Capital: Membership in Associations, Organizations, Boards of Directors, Advisory Boards, etc.; Close relationships to Thought Leaders in your field
  3. Creative Capital: Talents and abilities that are unique to you (musical ability, artistic ability, cooking, knitting, photography, juggling, etc.)
  4. Cultural Capital: Connections to your cultural community
  5. Spiritual Capital: Connections to your religious or spiritual community

Let this well-rounded and realistic sense of self shine through in all that you do.