BA Quest

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The Impostor Syndrome

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By Daniel Fockler

For the past few years I have had this feeling like I wasn’t good enough to be where I was in my life. Sometimes I felt like I shouldn’t have the job I have, or have the grades that I get. I had just chalked it up to my already low self-confidence. I made myself believe that the accomplishments I had made were because I was lucky. I worried that everyone around me was doing so much better than I was and that I wouldn’t be able to compete with them. My self-doubt and low self-esteem in my abilities had prevented me from participating in high school activities before. My stress about failure coupled with my confidence issues, felt crippling when confronted with competition. I’m now a senior computer science student and these feelings still crop up. I worry that all of the other students will be able to find jobs and I will be unable, due to my self-evaluated programming skills.

Just recently I learned that this feeling was not uncommon but has a name, the Impostor Syndrome.  In a study done by psychologists Clance and Imes in 1978, they found that many female graduate students felt like they didn’t deserve what they had accomplished. In further studies done by other psychologists this same phenomenon was found in many other collegiate students and teachers in some cases. They also found that the syndrome presents in men equally to women. Often the ability to self-evaluate creates a situation in which the person cannot accurately evaluate themselves. They compare themselves to their peers even without the knowledge of their peers abilities. For all the impostor knows the other people they are competing with could feel exactly the same way, or have equal or worse abilities to them. Often times people will not congratulate themselves for their accomplishments, but they will dwell on their errors and failures. It’s a difficult thing to realize and even more difficult to correct.

I realize that more and more life is all about fake it til’ you make it. In my experience people with confidence rarely believe that they are better, they are just pretending until it becomes normal for them to feel that way. As a scientist it seems silly to judge my ideas on unknown information, but that is exactly what I was doing. I was letting my feelings of doubt affect how I viewed others and consequently how I judged myself. Whether I knew how my abilities stacked up didn’t matter. An important step in overcoming this feeling is to take an accurate look at your competence in your field and not to judge yourself against others without objective information of your progress. Do you know the materials you are learning? Is there any solid evidence that you are doing worse than you should be doing? It’s easy to slip back into the impostor way of thinking if you are having a tough time with your work. Truly analyze your abilities, look at your accomplishments and don’t let yourself undermine what accomplishments you have achieved. It’s easy to keep raising the bar and devaluing what you have done, but keep looking at the evidence and you will find that you are keeping up and deserve the success that you have.

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Written by dfockler

12/14/2011 at 2:14 PM

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