Imposter Syndrome: What it is and How to Overcome it

“I don’t belong here.” If you have ever thought or said this phrase, you’re not alone. This feeling of not belonging or not measuring up is called “Imposter Syndrome”. It consists of self-doubting one’s capabilities, even when they are doing well, and feeling like a fraud. In college, some examples of imposter syndrome include assuming that your academic work isn’t sufficient and avoiding taking risks or speaking up in class because of the fear of failure.

Imposter syndrome can have devastating effects on a student’s mental health and academic performance. This feeling can contribute to anxiety and depression, and in response to stress. Students that experience these fraud-like thoughts can either procrastinate or over prepare.

The thing about these negative thoughts is that when students receive positive feedback, they may ignore it or assume it was a coincidence. This feeling of not belonging can even weave into students’ social life as well, causing them to withdraw or prevent them from making connections with others.

Evelyn Moncayo, a sophomore clinical lab science student who experienced imposter syndrome, shared, “Over the summer I worked as a lifeguard, and when I first got there I felt out of place because it seemed as if everyone knew one another.” She overcame this feeling by taking the opportunity to meet other lifeguards and bonding with her co-workers, which made her feel more comfortable.

Brianna Vazquez Torres, a sophomore chemistry student, had a similar experience to Moncayo. She said that over the summer, when she worked at a pharmacy, she felt that she did not belong. There was hardly any training; the pharmacy was very understaffed and she felt very discouraged from customers and her bosses, who constantly expected her to do more.

It can be discouraging to be in a new environment and know little to no one. It may take time for you to feel comfortable; however, don’t alienate yourself when you first start because you will doubt your skills and abilities.
Imposter syndrome doesn’t affect every student the same way. First generation students report a higher incidence of feeling like an imposter at school, according to a study published in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies you can take to try to dismiss these negative thoughts.
One way is to confront these feelings head on rather than bottling them up inside. Don’t worry about how you’re compared with other students; rather, refocus that energy on doing your best.

But, of course, this may sound easier said than done. Overcoming imposter syndrome takes time and doesn’t happen overnight. One simple way to do so is to change your mentality little by little. For example, instead of thinking, “I’m not smart enough for this class,” say, “I’m learning and I’ll figure things out.”

One final way to avoid falling into these negative traps is to accept that you don’t have to be perfect all the time. For many who experience imposter syndrome, there is a need to get everything right or else those thoughts of failure start creeping up. Well, cut yourself some slack and be proud of all your accomplishments thus far.

Ricca Beth, Executive Director for Career Development, mentioned that many students feel this way at some point in their careers. She said, “Talk with the people you trust. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be true to yourself. And, there are faculty, advisors and counselors here at MU to assist if you find yourself needing more help.”

People experience imposter syndrome because they do not take credit for their accomplishments in their careers and focus on the negatives they have done while diminishing all the success they have. While it is good to set yourself to a standard you want to meet, students need to learn how to be proud of their success and view their failures as learning experiences.

Just remember that being confident in what you do, and having a positive mindset, makes a huge difference. As Ricca Beth put it, “The best way to cope with imposter syndrome is, first and foremost, remember that you’ve earned your place here at Monmouth.”