The dictionary defines impostor symptoms as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own effort or skills. ” In other words, impostor syndrome is the feeling that you know you are a fraud and eventually other people will figure it out, too.
When I was in graduate school, I never heard the term, but I definitely experienced it. As a first-generation nontraditional student who completed my bachelor’s degree at a small liberal arts college, I felt like an impostor. It seemed as if everyone else had specialized educations and experiences to better prepare them for graduate student school, while I was struggling to keep my head above the water and catch up to everyone. I did not feel like We belonged, and I thought it was only a matter of time before someone else realized the same thing plus kicked me out of the program. It was not really until I was a postdoc that I would learn the term “impostor syndrome, ” which perfectly described what I had experienced.
Impostor fears are common in academe, especially for people with historically marginalized identities and even more so for those with intersecting ones. While change is occurring to make academe more supportive, it is happening extremely slowly and not without pushback. So , what can you do to begin to fight your impostor fears? You can find tools and mechanisms to help you. Most likely if you have experienced such worries once, you will experience all of them again even as your career advances. Having a set of tools will assist you when you need in order to overcome even the worst impostor syndrome days.
- Build confidence. It’s one of the best ways you can tackle impostor syndrome. What helps a person build confidence? It might be something small or large, yet even small steps can help you work toward being confident and experiencing fewer impostor fears. It does not have to be academic or work related. For me, it started as asking questions in seminars. Although it was terrifying at first, I actually slowly realized that my questions were similar in quality to the professors’ questions, which usually made my confidence grow.
- Get a little help from your friends (and family). When we are in our feelings, it is hard for us to use logic to get out of them. So , share your concerns and concerns with people you trust. They will usually see angles you cannot and help you realize that you are not an impostor but rather truly amazing. And they do not need to be in academe to be supportive. In fact , they are more likely to see your wins if they are outside higher education, which can lead to more confidence and reduce impostor anxieties.
- Practice. Practice builds your self-confidence. Find someone you trust to practice with. Are you worried about an upcoming interview? Do a dry run along with someone you know and trust or a career development professional, if your institution has one. Concerned about your upcoming dissertation defense or job talk? Again, practice. If the idea of practicing with others makes you a lot more nervous, start by practicing by yourself out loud. Then try with someone you might be comfortable with who you know will not make you nervous. Being aware of your needs on how best to practice can make you more comfortable.
- Learn. Perhaps your impostor fears come from the unknown. It is common for fears plus anxiety to come from not knowing about some thing. In graduate school and academe, so many things are not well-known or discussed. So how can you learn about all of them? Talk to people who have experienced them (bonus points for also increasing your network, which is always a good thing). Join Twitter and follow people to see threads plus discussions about different issues and ideas. Talk to people you know who have gone through the stages you happen to be concerned about.
- Problem-solve. Do you feel more like an impostor in certain situations? If so, consider what you can do to make those situations less fearful and stressful for you. For example , if you are worried about your own dissertation protection, set it up for the time of day when you are your best self. If you are a morning person, schedule a good early-morning time. If you are the night owl, look for afternoon availability. Choose an outfit that you feel good in. Some things may be completely out of your hands, but controlling the things you can might make a difference.
- Don’t compare yourself to other people. Even if we are at the same career stage, we are all on different journeys. A few fields are quick-paced, plus publication of your work can occur fast. Other fields have extremely slow timelines and it can take longer for you to publish. Some people have to teach during graduate school, reducing the amount of time available for research. Other people have families to care for and different levels of personal demands. Comparing yourself to others will only lead to emotions of inadequacy.
- Find trusted mentors. Mentors can be anyone. They can be your advisers, committee members, peers or even someone you have yet to meet. Good mentors are important to have and will assist build a person up. They will not make you feel bad about yourself. It is good to have multiple mentors with regard to various reasons including having a good support system and getting a variety of perspectives. Additionally , they will point out why you belong and that you are not an impostor.
- Succeed out of spite. Chances are you probably experienced someone at some point say something to you that will made you feel less than stellar or as if you did not belong. By succeeding, you are proving them wrong. Every successful move you make and achievement a person reach proves it. Using that proof to propel yourself forward and fight those inner fears is a completely valid thing. You should not use it as the only thing to battle your fears, but if you need to use this, go for it.
- Keep a good accomplishments document or folder. Keep track of any accomplishments you might have, big plus small. When you feel like you are an impostor, revisit it. It might not completely absolve your doubts, but hopefully it makes you realize that you are the smart and accomplished person you might be. Plus, it will assist you in writing your CV or résumé when the period comes. And you never know: sometimes that one college student evaluation that says you happen to be the bee’s knees could be just what you need to read on a bad day.
- Seek professional assistance. Getting mental health support is not always easy, but it is vital in many cases. Find out what your health insurance covers and seek out a therapist and/or psychiatrist who will be a good fit. Make sure you have outdoors support from friends and family while you seek out the therapist or psychiatrist, as finding someone who is a good fit can be taxing by itself. Sometimes we need outside assistance, plus there is nothing wrong with seeking it through trained professionals.
Last but definitely not least, remember you are smart and capable. They admitted you to the program or hired you because they saw some thing special in you. You would not be where you are today if you were an impostor. You are a skilled and brilliant person that can bring your own distinct experience and expertise to whatever you choose to do. You fit in. You are not a good impostor.