I Wish Someone Had Told Me… About Imposter Syndrome

The other day I learned the term, “Imposter Syndrome,” and I couldn’t believe I’ve never heard of it before! It describes how I feel about my life and myself a majority of the time.

When I first started college I was majoring in architecture. I had been told that the architecture program was extremely difficult to get into. So naturally, I worked hard and really tried to succeed. But shorty after getting accepted into the program (when not all of my friends had) I thought, “Did I miss something? Did I somehow cheat through it – it’s because I’m a girl… they had to up their female quota.

I did not stick with architecture and changed my major Sophomore year to something I had always been good at and enjoyed – math. I became a double major in mathematics and mathematics education.

Something tells me she’s faking that smile…

The education part was simple, filled with child psychology and a lot of reading. It was the math part that was tricky. Most students perusing math education also had planned to double major in mathematics as well. The only thing was, as the math got harder… many students dropped the additional math courses. Since it was only a few extra classes, I decided that I would stick with it.

The major in mathematics was a good backup plan. I found myself again working hard. Studying more than my roommates and trying harder than most of my classmates. It was junior year when I got my first D ever and in a math class. Obviously, I had to retake it – so I retook it even though I was very convinced I would never understand Real Analysis. (I got a B the second time around… but you know it was because I took it with a different instructor…)

Even doing something I loved and I worked hard at – I felt fake. Every time my mom would tell me how proud she was of me or how she “couldn’t believe she had a daughter getting a degree in math,” I felt like a lie. My head would say, “I’m not that smart. I use my classmates to get by. I’m really just faking it and cheating… somehow.”

When I walked across the stage at graduation, I still felt this way. I still felt like a complete fake. When I got a job as a Financial Analyst – I thought I lied somehow once again. I really just got the job because I knew someone who knew someone… (I’d really like to know what my brain thinks I should be doing instead.)

Then I learned I’m not alone. Others feel like fakes as well!

“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, ‘Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are.‘”- Emma Watson

Oprah Winfrey, hosts a show called “Super Soul Sunday” where she interviews various inspirational people. The interview I watched was with Wes Moore, who describes himself on Twitter as a youth advo­cate, Army com­bat vet­eran, social entrepreneur, and best selling author. In his interview with Oprah he brought up the term Imposter Syndrome which made me think “Whoa, that’s an actual thing??”

The 2 minute and 26 second clip, that you can find here really intrigued me to learn more about Imposter Syndrome.

Facts about Imposter Syndrome

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the term “imposter phenomenon” was coined by PhD. psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970’s…

Here’s some more interesting facts on Imposter Syndrome:

  • Imes and Clance originally thought only women were affected by Imposter Phenomenon.
  • The feeling of being an imposter frequently occurs among over achievers who cannot internalize and accept their success.
  • Individuals suffering from Imposter Syndrome contribute their success to luck rather than to hard work. (My boyfriend does this  all of the time and it drives me bonkers!)
  • Imes found that most people who experienced Imposter Syndrome grew up in families that placed a lot of emphasis on achievement. Imes said, “In our society there’s a huge pressure to achieve. There can be a lot of confusion between approval and love and worthiness. Self-worth becomes contingent on achieving.
  • Imposter Phenomenon is more common among individuals working on a new endeavor and is more common among minorities.
  • Various high achievers have admitted to suffering from Imposter Syndrome! Emma Watson, Tina Fey, Denzel Washington and a few others (found here).


You’re Exactly Where You Belong

The quote I found most interesting that Moore said was this, “We’re never in a room that we don’t belong in.” It’s an incredible thing to remember throughout your day, your week, your year and your life. You are never in a room that you do not belong in. It wasn’t luck, or other people’s work that got you to that room. It was you. You belong right where you are.

Own it, give yourself credit and when you feel like a fake realize you’re not alone – you’re one of the greats!

PS The photo above is from a few holiday’s ago when my brother was serving overseas. My mom, dad, boyfriend, his girlfriend at the time and I all dressed up as him. Tape measure suspenders and flannels… yeah, I’m still not 100% sold on the idea of being related to him 😉