Have you ever felt that you were not good enough to get to accomplish your goals? When you achieve higher levels of success, do you attribute it to luck or “it was just a fluke”? Have you felt as if you were a fraud because you don’t deserve these successes and been in fear of being discovered as a fraud?
If any of these questions have been true to you, then you have dealt with what is known as “Imposter Syndrome.” According to the Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome can be defined as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” These feelings culminate in perpetual self-doubt and a sense of intellectual insufficiency that is not dissipated by success or anything else, proving the existence of competence. Just know that you are not alone in feeling this way as many people of color have had feelings of imposter syndrome, myself included.
There is no one reason why people experience imposter syndrome; it seems to be a collection of many factors. Some of these factors have to do with individual personality traits, such as being a perfectionist. Other factors also may be due to the outside environment. A good example of this is institutionalized discrimination. When a person who has a marginalized identity is in higher levels of education, they tend to see fewer people who look like them and more people who do not look like them. This can lead to feeling like an outsider and impacting your confidence, which can then lead to feelings of incompetence and fraudulence.
What led to my feelings of imposter syndrome was coming to medical school. In my high school and college years, I was a perfectionist and usually among the top students of my class. Being in medical school, however, you are now with students who were also the top of their respective classes, along with the material being much harder. Topics were not coming as quickly and easily as they used to, and my test scores were not as high as I was used to. I started to think maybe I am not meant to be in medical school.
Maybe I am not meant to be a doctor. It was then that I had to learn not only more efficient studying strategies but also contentment; I had to learn to be proud of myself when I know I had given my full effort. Test scores are not the only mark of a good doctor. Empathy, knowledge, and personability are all good qualities to have as a doctor, and I know that as long as I master the material and become a better, more caring person, I will make an amazing doctor.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
- Recognize these feelings.
- It’s important to be aware of these feelings and what specific triggers lead to these feelings. Knowing is half the battle, so be sure to be in tune with your own emotions.
- Talk to yourself more than you listen to yourself
- That little voice of self-doubt is going to try to find ways to speak to you, especially when you are more vulnerable. This is when you have to tell yourself things like, “It’s normal to not completely understand things the first time; the further I move along, the more the information will make sense to me.” Positive affirmations are also key here: “I can do this,” “I will be better than where I was yesterday,” “I am not going to stop doing my best,” “I am meant to be here.”
- Develop self-compassion
- We are all human, and we are going to make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Don’t be hung up on mistakes. Reward yourself when you do well.
- Reframe your thoughts on “failure.”
- “Failure” is a lesson. You only really fail when you stop learning from your lessons. Use the lessons that you learn constructively to improve yourself. By “failing,” you can see your deficits and see what you need to improve on. Who knows? They may eventually become your strengths.
- Learn contentment.
- This was vital for me. People who are perfectionists tend not to be satisfied until their results are, well, perfect. Nobody is perfect; there is no way you can know 100% of the answers 100% of the time.
- Contentment is much different from complacency. Complacency is a feeling of satisfaction with your abilities that prevents you from trying harder. At the same time, contentment is more like a feeling of satisfaction/gratefulness in regards to your current situation. Complacency is external and focuses on external pleasure, but contentment is internal and focuses on your attitude. When you are content, you can appreciate where you are now and the progress you have made to get there. Contentment does not prevent you from reaching higher levels of success but instead acknowledges that every step of your journey is important and vital to your success.
- Have a community
- Whenever you feel like an imposter, share with those close to you. They may have similar feelings, and this conversation may prove therapeutic to all parties involved. It is perfectly fine to ask for help, as well. Physicians work in teams, businesses work in teams, and even families work in teams; we were never meant to go through life completely alone.
- See your success before you see your success
- Visualize a positive outcome beforehand. If you think positively, not only will you be calmer, but you will also tend to do more positively.