Have you ever received praise you don’t think you deserved? I have always felt this way about my writing. Though I receive compliments about my work, I can never seem to accept them. In fact, when compliments wear off, they make me feel even worse than I already am. I feel like I’m held to a certain standard, always anxious that someone is going to see me for who I truly am, and discover how poorly I write. Since I’m constantly thinking about whether my writing is good enough for the public’s eyes, I have a hard time getting started. I’m afraid to start writing because I feel like people are out to weed out the frauds, including me.
Also known as the imposter syndrome, this mindset hinders me from truly expressing myself through my writing. The first time I was introduced to this term was by a college graduate who struggled with it. I was drawn into this concept because I thought it was just a phase of not feeling adequate, and I didn’t know there was a term for it. To see whether I really suffered from it or not, I decided to take an online test myself. I had to rate how strongly I felt about various statements: “Even if people praise my skills, I still don't think I am as accomplished as they think I am”. Strongly agree. I may get rewards for my hard work, but I don't feel I have earned them”. Strongly agree. In the end, I was shocked to see that I got a 97 out of 100. “You … fear that eventually -- especially if you make a mistake or fail -- people will discover that you are actually incompetent,” is what my results said. I couldn’t relate more.
Career counselor Dr. Valerie Young spoke about overcoming this phenomenon in a TedTalk. She says, “the only difference between [people without imposter syndrome] and us is: they think different thoughts. That’s it. Which is really good news, because it means all we have to do is learn to think like a non-imposter.” And she’s right. In fact, your body can’t recognize the difference between fear and excitement.
The limbic system, the section of our brain that deals with emotions, is composed of the hippocampus and amygdala. These lead to the hypothalamus, which essentially controls our stress response. The hypothalamus is what causes our palms to get sweaty or increases our heart rate when we have to speak in front of a large audience. Remarkably, excitement triggers this exact response. So if you’re afraid of speaking in front of a crowd, it’s very easy to shift that fear into excitement. You don’t have to feel confident to act confident. Though everyone fears failing to some degree, people without imposter syndrome are completely fine with doing just that. They acknowledge the fact that they won’t be the best at everything. To stop feeling like an imposter, you must first stop thinking like one.
Imposter syndrome is not something that disappears once you get into your dream college or land your dream job. In fact, while I was researching this topic, most studies that showed up were related to undergraduates and people already working jobs. I have tried to attain a level of satisfaction with my writing that I will never be able to achieve. If you deal with imposter syndrome, don’t be afraid to reach out to people you trust. You are not alone.