“Faking It”: A Study in Impostor Syndrome

How many times have you found yourself in a situation and thought, “I don’t belong here. I’m not at all qualified for this. I’m not smart/experienced/good enough for this.” Maybe it’s a job, school, even a relationship. You feel like a fraud. You feel like you are the one faker that slipped through the cracks without notice, and everyone around you is better and belongs there.

This is called Impostor Syndrome. Caltech Counseling Center (random reference) defines Imposter Syndrome as “as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.” In other words, you always feel like you are not good enough, despite the evidence that shows you are. You dismiss all your qualifications, accomplishments, and strengths and worry that any moment now you’ll be “found out” by others for being a total fake.

I have felt like this my whole life, and when I first read about Impostor Syndrome I had this mini-epiphany. I was like, “THAT’S IT! That’s ME!”  I thought I was the only one. Apparently, it’s pretty common, especially in those who are successful and/or high achieving.

If you’re in recovery for an eating disorder, it’s likely that you are a perfectionist, so perhaps you’ll even recognize Impostor Syndrome in yourself. A lifelong perfectionist myself, I have a hard time ever believing I am good enough. Sitting in my college classes, I’d think, “I’m definitely not smart enough to be here. The admissions counselors must have accidentally let me in here alongside all these people who are ACTUALLY smart and capable.” My good grades? Not evidence that I am smart or a good student–probably due to a combination of easy classes and luck. In my internships and jobs, I’d be overwhelmed with thoughts that told me it was a fluke that I was hired–these people must think I’m more qualified or responsible than I actually am. Even in my own relationships, I feel that those who care about me MUST be seeing someone else entirely. I feel like they don’t see all of me because if they REALLY knew me, they’d realize I’m not that great.

I’d wait, panic-stricken, for the moment when others realized my shortcomings and a teacher would tell me I wasn’t smart enough, or I’d get fired, or someone would dump me for being boring or stupid.

None of my worst fears ever happened. I never walked into a classroom or office to be greeted by my peers with a big “GUESS WHAT WE KNOW YOU’RE ACTUALLY A HUGE LOSER” surprise party. I wasn’t an impostor. And to take that a step further: even if I had failed a class, messed up an assignment at work, or gotten dumped, it wouldn’t have anything to do with my worth as a person. You are NOT your achievements.

However, it’s high time we all start recognizing that we don’t suck in every way imaginable. Be proud of your achievements–whether it’s your GPA, your promotion, or someone saying they like your artwork. You ARE qualified to be at your school or job; it’s not an oversight or a mistake on the administration’s part!

It might even help to make a list of things that prove you are talented, smart, and capable. Maybe you got a scholarship, maybe you had a glowing recommendation from your music teacher, maybe an acquaintance complimented your photography, or maybe your idea was picked up by upper management.

You’re smarter, braver, and stronger than you think. You’re not an impostor.