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Imposter Syndrome: Alumni Reflections with Gabriela Trujillo, '10


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


Shaking Doubt and Welcoming Confidence

By Gabi Trujillo, ‘10

I am sure there is now a general understanding and grasp of what imposter syndrome means and how it shows up in our lives, whether obviously so or not so much. Personally, there have been various occasions during which I have experienced it (or a form of it); but I now, as a result, also have several techniques I use to shake doubt and welcome confidence. Here are a few examples of when I felt imposter syndrome and how I addressed and dealt with its negative effects:

In College

Up until my junior year of college, I was on track to become a Math Econ major. I was enrolled in Corporate Finance courses, learned about stocks, bonds, yields, and annuities, and wanted the grandest possible future for myself. I accomplished a lot throughout this time but also struggled quite a bit given that this wasn’t my true passion and path and as a result took a leave of a year and a half, during which I felt an almost after-the-fact imposter syndrome. I thought that because of my leave and because of the time I was taking to finish school, I was not a true “academic” or one as defined in the conventional sense. If I was struggling this much at school, surely I was simply a fraud of some sort, seeking what wasn’t for me, what I had been given an opportunity to do simply as a result of being a minority and a woman, etc., right?


And here’s what helped me realize that: I found my own extremely personal reason and purpose for returning to school and defined for myself what success would look like. I used benchmarks and “checkpoints” that I set up as guides for myself. This way, while I was back in an environment that, yes, sometimes pushed me to subscribe to one specific set of rules, I took from the experience what I needed to. In doing so, I was able to fully acknowledge even my small achievements. Without this recognition, we lose track of all that makes up our path toward a certain setting, life, or lifestyle, one that we are indeed deserving of.

In sum: acknowledge small successes, ones you define for yourself, which then act as your reminders of your value, work, and progress.

At Work

At work I code switch quite a bit. I adjust my communication approach and my tone depending on the group I am with, the individual I am talking to, or the project I am attempting to convey to someone. Sometimes, because of this, I question whether corporate is the right place for me: because it takes quite a bit of effort sometimes to adjust my approach, am I really meant to be where I am? And I am, if I want to be.

Here’s how I know: I do my work well, and I do my work as I best judge it should be done. My reasons for being at work extend beyond my communication style and into the value I am driving. Sometimes, because we view corporate or higher ed as a sort of default, we don’t always feel authentic if we do that which does not align well with how these institutions are usually thought of (e.g. speaking a certain way, looking a certain way, etc).

In sum: To combat imposter syndrome in these cases, I keep my vision and purpose in mind. I also communicate with others about how I communicate and what works best for me. In doing so, you address the differences that may make you feel as though you are walking in a wrong direction. By addressing them, you usually arrive at a new understanding of others around you, those who may not turn out to be that much different…or may turn out to feel surprisingly similar in terms of imposter syndrome.

Outside of Work

As an adult, I picked up ballet and salsa dancing. I do ballet twice a week (at minimum) and salsa class at least once a month. Confidence, even if subtle, is absolutely required to perform well; but because I didn’t do these things as a child, I used to often wonder, “can I call myself a dancer?” or “can I say I know it if I am still learning it?” And yes, I can.

Here’s why: As Nelson Mandela stated, “It always seems impossible until it's done” and this is true. “It” can refer to anything: to your new job, new hobby, or a research paper you have to begin. As long as you do, you are. So, keep doing, keep learning, ask for help or mentorship to develop what is needed to be a subject matter expert or someone familiar with something (a concept, a skill, etc). But also remember that you don’t have to know it all or reach an ultimate end in order to give yourself credit for your work. Don’t discount, as mentioned above, the small successes.

I hope my examples have helped you to understand imposter syndrome and how to deal with it. There is a ton of advice out there for how to best handle this, and as with any other personal struggle or challenge, we must each arrive at the solution(s) that we evaluate will work best for us.

Some parting words (without including examples of the experiences I have had that helped me arrive to these conclusions):

  1. You don’t have to be all things to all people, and you don’t have to be all things to yourself either.

  2. Personal purpose is important. Identify this or develop it to use as a guiding light when imposter syndrome may make an appearance.

  3. Luck can get us ahead but, luck won’t keep us ahead. You will know if and when you will need to seek out help to develop your skills, capabilities, etc.



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