There are no Imposters Among Us
Learning Hub Ambassador Shi Davis explains the phenomenon that is imposter syndrome and how to deal with itNov 7, 2022
As a physics major, there’s a joke in the undergraduate community that to be a physicist you either have to have a god complex or imposter syndrome. More often than not, it’s imposter syndrome, and it really makes me wonder why it is so prevalent. I mean, my friend who worked at NASA over the summer said they had a team meeting to discuss imposter syndrome. At NASA. A bunch of cutting edge, crazy cool scientists studying space and all its secrets suffer from imposter syndrome.
In my job at the front desk of the LRC, I also have gotten to learn that it isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to physics. It can happen to anyone, no matter their major or what they are doing. I’ve bonded with my peers and fellow students over how in-over-our-heads we feel, and how we question if we even should be here.
Some of you may be asking what imposter syndrome even is. It’s the lack of ability to internalize your success and often has people questioning if they belong or not. If you’ve ever thought, “I’m not good enough to be here,” you might have been experiencing imposter syndrome. There might also be a fear that someone is going to find out that you’ve been faking this whole time, and you’ll lose all respect and be shunned by your peers.
Imposter syndrome comes from a place of perfectionism, especially for those kids who were labeled as Gifted as a child or those who come from a family that based affection and love on grades or success (I can’t be the only one who had threats of punishment if I got a C instead of a B or an A). Whatever the trigger was for you, at some point down the line, you began to equate your self-worth and value in how accomplished and good you are at doing things. As we’ve grown as adults, and things get more difficult, or you find yourself in challenges and places where you aren’t necessarily supposed to know everything, we see our value decreasing. These situations are normal. You’re not supposed to be at a PhD understanding in an undergrad internship, and there are supposed to be things you are still needing to learn. That’s the nature of being a person who is growing everyday.
This phenomena isn’t isolated to little ol’ you and me, even people we’d consider some of the most accomplished and skilled experience imposter syndrome like us.
Below is an excerpt from Neil Gaiman at a time he had gone to an event full of accomplished folks of all backgrounds.
“On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, ‘I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.’
And I said, ‘Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.’”
If Neil Armstrong feels like an imposter, it’s okay if you do too.
Now, to those of you who identify with imposter syndrome, I have a challenge for you. There’s no way to mess this up, and it’s okay to say “I can’t do that right now, but soon I will be able to.”
- Write down everything you couldn’t do before you started your academic career. Every single thing that pops to mind. “Format a paper is MLA/APA/Chicago”, “Make a budget” “Find the integral to x”, “Write a professional email”, etc etc. Try to keep it to provable tasks in case your brain starts trying to tell you it doesn’t count.
- Now, cross off everything you still can’t do.
- Compare what hasn’t been crossed off (the things you can do) with the things that have been crossed off (the things you’re still working on learning)
- Now stick it somewhere you can access it when you start feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything.
- And remember, even if you haven’t accomplished everything on your list, that is okay. You don’t have to be good at everything, and you’re pretty great at the things you are good at.
Just remember, it’s okay to not be good at everything and to even have areas you need to grow in. It’s part of life, and you are where you are meant to be.
 - Gaiman, The Neil Story (With Additional Footnote), Neil Gaiman, May 17, 2017, https://journal.neilgaiman.com/2017/05/the-neil-story-with-additional-footnote.html.