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  • Writer's pictureJena

Imposter Syndrome

Photo: Anne Shvets

If you haven't heard of "imposter syndrome" before, it's that feeling that you don't belong, that there's been some mistake and you don't really fit in with the group/ your colleagues/a particular cohort/whatever. Most people have felt that way, even Michelle Obama spoke about it during an interview, saying: "...Particularly for minorities...there's this feeling like because you've been told that you're not good enough, that when you're in a room, you're wondering 'how did I get here if I've been told I'm not good enough?' Women feel it oftentimes because society says, 'you shouldn't be doing that.' So you feel like an imposter in your own life." She went on to advise everyone to enter the rooms "you don't think you belong in," to occupy spaces, and to develop the self-confidence needed to share your voice.

The American Psychological Association reports that imposter syndrome was first described by Dr. Imes and Dr. Clance in the 1970's. In the article Feel Like a Fraud? Kirsten Weir says "imposter phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud."

And to be blunt, believing you're an imposter in the room sucks. I've felt it. I'm sure you've felt it too. And this feeling of alienation is often the enemy of success. For years, I believed I didn't have leadership qualities and couldn't function as a leader. In my mind, I wasn't the type of person who could be a leader. And any time I was nominated for a leadership position or thanked for providing opportunities for others in different ways, I accepted these occurrences as flukes.

If you've never heard from anyone before, please let me be the first to tell you: You are where you are because you belong there. You did the work and you earned it. You have unique gifts that are valuable. And more than the talents you have, you are valuable. And maybe it's hard to believe that we belong because of what we were told and because of our own negative self-talk but it is possible to change our self-talk and it is possible to change our course. It sounds dumb, but using positive affirmations is one thing that can be helpful. It's also helpful to be around positive people- people who think the world of us and can lift us up when we feel less than. It's also helpful to remember how far we've come and what we did to get here.

Like Ms. Obama said: we belong. And it's time we realize it.


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