You don’t belong here. That is something you are absolutely sure of, and every little setback seems to confirm what you already know. Somehow you’ve managed to convince people that you are worthy of the position you hold and you live in constant fear of the day when they realize they got it all wrong. They’ll be so angry and disappointed and you will be publicly ostracized. You spend all of your time working as hard as you can to make sure nobody ever knows that you are not who they think you are. This feeling is impostor syndrome. It is also known as the impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is not the same thing as being nervous about a job application or submitting a paper in class when you aren’t sure if you have met all of the requirements. It is being 100 per cent sure that you have met every single requirement but that the sum of those parts does not add up to the whole everyone is looking for. It is the idea that you cannot possibly be what they’re looking for and that you will be summarily rejected. People living with impostor syndrome are unable to internalize the things they have accomplished and see them only as a stopgap, preventing the truth from being discovered. Awards are seen as being undeserved, pay checks unearned, and even friendships as being based on a lie.
The problem with impostor syndrome is that it keeps people from achieving their goals. Despite being qualified, people who experience it are less likely to actually apply for jobs, scholarships or even join teams and clubs.
So, how do you know if you have impostor syndrome? There are a number of ways, but none of them are set in stone. Are you a perfectionist? Do you worry that you’re not working hard enough, despite putting in many long hours? Are you a micromanager? Does downtime always make you feel like there’s something you should be doing? Are you constantly looking for classes, workshops, or even self-help books to ‘improve’ upon the skills you are already a master of? Does a failure, even a small one, send you into a tailspin? These are all classic signs of impostor syndrome. It’s not a medical diagnosis though.
Impostor syndrome disproportionately affects people from marginalized groups. People in positions of authority are not often members of these groups and that adds another layer of complexity to the subject. What if you really aren’t qualified for your position? What if you’re the token minority hire? Marginalized people are often made to feel like they aren’t good enough in any situation, let alone a professional or academic one. The onus is often placed on them to ‘prove’ that they are worthy by being the best in every aspect of their lives. They often feel like they can’t speak up about issues because they’ll be seen as confrontational and unappreciative of the ‘gift of opportunity’ they have been given. I, for one, have stayed quiet when I’ve heard co-workers and classmates making jokes about gay people, both as a gay person who will be seen to be confirming stereotypes, and as a woman who will be seen as a bitch.
I am here to tell you that you are not a fraud. You have earned all of your accomplishments. Despite what the world has taught you to believe, doing your best does not mean working yourself to death in order to find the elusive approval of everyone. While we all get a little bogged down in the details sometimes, it is important to remember what your goal is and all the things you have already done to work toward it. You are meant to be here and your voice is meant to be heard. You have earned this.
‘Let’s Talk About’ is a weekly column about major social issues affecting Brock students and the community at large. We seek to hear from everyone in the community about the issues that affect them personally, including feminist issues, LGBTQ+ issues, racism, sexism, ableism, etc. As this is the final news issue of the Brock Press for the 2017-18 publication year, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has read and contributed to ‘Let’s Talk About,’ and encourage you to continue thinking about the issues that we’ve discussed in the year ahead. Thank you for your time and for your readership. While ‘Let’s Talk About’ has reached the end of it’s run, The Brock Press will begin publication again in August of 2018 with a new staff and plenty of opportunity for new opinions to be heard. Let’s keep talking. For submissions and guidelines for publication, please inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.