Recently, the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) Conference has become a must attend for the Division of Loan Repayment. This conference is the largest national conference and networking event dedicated to the postdoctoral community – and most of all, it’s a ton of fun! This year, I presented a workshop on Imposter Syndrome. To my delight, the session was an absolute success! As evidenced by the standing room only crowd, session attendees really wanted to gain insight on how to deal with the imposter within. So, what is Imposter Syndrome? It’s described as a pattern of thought where an individual doubts their own accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as completely unprepared and unqualified.
Basically in a nutshell, it’s that internal worst best friend that reminds you (loudly) of your mistakes, that you’re a bit of a fraud, your accomplishments are due to ANYTHING other than your talent or intellect and oh, by the way....everyone is going to find out soon and you’re going to be super embarrassed I’d say the most difficult part of dealing with imposter syndrome is that NO ONE talks about it, so its allowed to loom over us....undermining our courage to speak up in meetings, go after new opportunities, explore potential areas of interest, or simply putting ourselves out there and showing up more fully in our lives.
If you have ever had any of these imposter thoughts, you’re in good company. It’s estimated that 70% of the population has battled the ‘imposter monster’. Even some of the most successful people will encounter imposter syndrome at some point.
“The struggle with self-doubt never goes away; even with writing my book, I asked myself— 'am I good enough?’— it can haunt us, because the messages that are sent from the time to time are that maybe you not enough...so don't reach too high. Don't talk too loud." – First Lady, Michelle Obama
“I never raised my hand in my first year at Princeton because I was too embarrassed and too intimidated to ask questions. I went on to Yale Law School where I was at the top of my class—and despite all of my professional accomplishments, I still look over my shoulder and wonder if I measure up.” - Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor
But once you identify those imposter thoughts and feelings, managing them can get better with time. First, however, you have to gain a different perspective. So, what are some ways that an individual can combat the whirlwind of anxiety and negative self-talk that accompanies imposter syndrome? I have a few pointers:
- Plant Your Feet....Breathe
- When you are feeling overwhelmed, stop what you’re doing, unclench your teeth, take a breather and try to separate your true feelings/concerns from your fears (i.e., what are you really concerned about?).
- Silence is NOT Golden
- You don’t have to go it alone and you don’t have to know all of the answers. Remember that you CAN ask questions and it’s ok to ask for help/support.
- Be Your Own Best Friend
- Play a new mental tape and visualize your success instead of failure. Try thinking “ how can I make this happen?” versus, “I don’t’ think this will work out”.
- Brush Your Shoulders Off
- Try to reframe your internal response to mistakes. Instead of taking criticism or questions as a confirmation of your lack of ability, it’s important to detach the issue/criticism from feelings about who YOU are (after all, they are not even remotely the same thing).
- Cut Out the Instagram/Snapchat Mentality
- It was once said that “comparison is the thief of joy”, so stop idolizing your mentors and others you look up to...and by all means, don’t compare your perceived ‘blooper reels’ to their ‘success reels’!
- Do Something Good for Yourself and Maybe Even Someone Else
- What do you do for yourself? Do you exercise, sleep or create art? Self-care is not selfish. After all, how can you be at your best if you’re constantly running on empty? Also, think about mentoring someone else. Not only will you empower someone else, you will empower yourself at the same time!
As you can probably guess, there was a TREMENDOUS amount of interaction among our session attendees at NPA and I’ve received several invitations to present at different universities. While it may make me a little nervous to accept all of the invitations, I’m happy to ‘turn the lights on’ and expose the imposter monster for what it is...just thoughts that we have the ability to dial down. Perhaps I’ll see you soon at your local university! In the meantime, if you’d like to read more about imposter syndrome, here are two articles that I think you will find useful: 10 Steps You Can Use to Overcome Imposter Syndrome, and Intellectual Self Doubt and How to Get Out of It. Take good care of you!