Imposter Syndrome can be a daunting feeling for many students trying to manoeuvre through university life.
Have you ever walked into your seminar room and suddenly felt an overwhelming sense that you don’t actually belong here? Sure – you work extremely hard, but you definitely don’t feel like you can compete with the dozens of prestigious intellectuals who stare at you blankly as you quietly try and take a seat. You might be the only POC in the room, meaning: there’s no way you can go unnoticed. What are they really thinking? Will they find out that I’m not actually that smart? If I answer this question wrong are they all going to know that I managed to fluke my way onto this course?
No, no and no.
That’s Imposter Syndrome speaking, and I can assure you that it’s lying to you…
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome (IS) is an internal experience where a person believes that they are not as smart, competent or deserving as others may believe them to be. This is usually experienced when referring to intellectual and personal achievements, and can often be in a professional environment such as work or university. The term was first coined in 1978 by Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who explored how women in the workplace are sometimes subject to imposter syndrome. Today it is used to refer to the foreboding sense of fear that comes with convincing yourself that you’re a fraud who’s managed to land your personal success by absolute chance. And 99% of the time, it’s all in your head!
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”
Maya Angelou, Award-Winning Author
Who Suffers from Imposter Syndrome and Why?
It’s clear that even the most talented individuals suffer with Imposter Syndrome. From influential leaders to famous actors – the feeling of not being ‘all that special’ can be a crippling and limiting belief that caused even the greatest of writers such as Maya Angelou, to question her own abilities. Statistically, women, especially women of colour, are more likely to experience Imposter Syndrome – but why is that?
According to Emily Wu, a Clinical Psychologist who told BBC Work Life that ‘We’re more likely to experience imposter syndrome if we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field’. The reality is that many BAME students don’t see representations of themselves in their university with the lack of BAME professors in British institutions. ‘Only 1% of UK university professors are black’, states the BBC in a recent report. Among all academic staff, 2% are black, 10% are Asian, 75% are white, with the remainder under categories of “mixed”, “other or not known”. It becomes more obvious as to why BAME students struggle to feel like they belong in an environment that doesn’t validate their existence and achievements through the people who they see in power.
Do I Have Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome may look different for each individual, but their are some common factors that might indicate that you may be struggling with this daunting feeling:
- You downplay your achievements
You may feel like you landed your place ‘by chance’ and totally discredit the actual hardwork and determination that got you to where you are today. You may even dim-down your expertise even though you are genuinely more skilled or knowledgeable than others.
- You doubt your intelligence
Feeling like you’re ‘not actually that smart’ or that any display of your intelligence isn’t representative of your actual ability, but some coincidental external force.
- You feel like you don’t belong
When you’re in a room full of people, you often feel like you’re the undeserving outsider who shouldn’t have actually made it into the room. This is often combined with the foreboding sense that you’re a deciever who will eventually be found out.
Tackling Imposter Syndrome
“…just doing you and knowing that your thoughts are just as relevant, your experiences are just as important, your incites are just as valuable, so that you will share it and use it and practice being there, that’s the work you have to do if you feel like an imposter.”
– Michelle Obama
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome isn’t always easy, but is very possible when you’re able to recognise your triggers and combat negative-self-talk. Former First Lady and humanitarian Michelle Obama spoke about Imposter Syndrome to a group of girls during the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific panel in Kuala Lumpur in 2019. Michelle Obama urged young girls to remember: ‘It is not true. You wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing if you didn’t belong here.’
It is important as students that we recognise and celebrate our successes. Some of the way to tackle Imposter Syndrome is:
- Write a list of your achievements to date
What have you accomplished and how does that make you feel? This is to remind yourself that YOU did that! Yes you.
- Create some positive affirmations to counteract your negative feelings
Some examples of affirmations to combat Imposter Syndrome might be: ‘I am deserving of what I have achieved because I am a hard working magnificent individual!’. Write a list of affirmations and say them to yourself daily – watch how you start to believe it!
- Change the way you speak about yourself
Be mindful about the moments where you downplay your successes or give a disclaimer before you talk about your achievements. If you begin to eradicate all doubtful self-talk, you can eventually change your mentality.
- Remind yourself that you are qualified
You made it here because you had the skills, qualification and personal attributes to be here. Just like everyone else, you applied for this course, had to work super hard to achieve your grades, and continue to persevere everyday. Now that’s something to celebrate!
You Got This!
Remember that Imposter Syndrome often affects high achieving individuals. If you feel like this is something that you’re currently battling with – stop, pause and reflect on the fact that you made it to a successful and sought after position in your life. You’ve worked so hard and now you’ve landed yourself that placement or that competitive spot on your course. No one else did that but you! Keep going and constantly remind yourself that you deserve everything good that comes your way.