im·pos·tor syn·drome (n)
The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills
Recent research estimates that 70% of individuals experience feelings of impostorism at least once in their lives. These feelings often occur in new academic or workplace settings, but can happen at any time. In fact, Maya Angelou, Sonia Sotomayor, Tom Hanks, and Michelle Obama have all publicly expressed their grapplings with imposter syndrome. Maya shared, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”
Over the next few days, we will be posting a series of alumni reflections on the topic of Imposter Syndrome.
Look How Far You’ve Come
By Ashley Vega, ‘15
I have been in college for four years, and I had never heard the phrase “imposter syndrome”; however, after a few Google searches and educational YouTube videos, I had a good grasp of its meaning. I repeatedly asked myself if I had experienced imposter syndrome, and I think it took me a few days to accept that I have experienced it.
As I reflect, I realize that I have experienced it at least once a year in the past three years. I first experienced it at the end of fall semester sophomore year when I failed one of my classes. I thought it was the end of the world, and I gave myself “reasons” about why I should feel the way I did, like: “You’re a Biology major and you can’t pass a simple GE course, how are you going to survive college?” However, when I put it into perspective, I see that I took on a heavy load; I was taking three other classes, two were Physics and Chemistry. I passed these classes with As and instead of being proud and feeling accomplished, I focused all of my energy on my one F.
I started to belittle my F when I talked about it with my advisors. They reminded me that I am going to have ups and downs—life doesn’t go in a straight line. Although this relieved me when I heard it, it didn’t stick when I was having a rough time in school again. I failed another class the following fall semester, and I felt the exact same way despite my improvements the semester before. This time I spoke with my EOP advisor, and she told me something I will never forget. She recommended printing out my transcript, highlighting my different letter grades and posting it on my wall, so I could SEE and remind myself that I am not the failure that I think I am. I felt that this was the beginning of my turning point.
Although I started to believe in myself a little more, I’m still prone to imposter syndrome. This semester, I highly debated changing my major to Spanish (my current minor) because I was focused on protecting my GPA. The idea of staying a Bio major scared me because I was afraid of continuously failing and never graduating. I spoke with my EOP advisor, again, and she said that she would support me no matter my decision, but she emphasized that I have succeeded and that I am capable of succeeding as a Biology student.
I took time during winter break to think about my decision, and I randomly had a “lightbulb moment” where I knew that I could continue with my major. I believe in the mottos: “keep moving forward” and “your past does not define who you are,” which is why I reminded myself that I’m a fighter. Although majoring in Spanish would alleviate the feeling of failing, I saw it as the easy way out. Biology is a part of who I am, and I simply can’t give up on it— I’ve made it this far.
I believe that giving yourself reminders on how far you’ve come and seeking advice when needed are very important because I wouldn’t feel some sense of relief now, if I hadn’t sought help. Everyone is at their own pace, and it’s essential to take some time to appreciate yourself and all of your hard work.
This is the first post in a series of reflections.
Want to learn more about imposter syndrome, its impact, and how to combat it? Check out the videos and research articles below.
Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241.
Parkman, A. (2016). The imposter phenomenon in higher education: Incidence and impact. Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice, 16(1), 51.
Peteet, B. J., Montgomery, L., & Weekes, J. C. (2015). Predictors of imposter phenomenon among talented ethnic minority undergraduate students. The Journal of Negro Education, 84(2), 175-186.
Stebleton, M., & Soria, K. (2013). Breaking down barriers: Academic obstacles of first-generation students at research universities.