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Stop Feeling Like a Fraud: How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

I never got to truly enjoy my college acceptances.

I worked extremely hard my senior year of high school to make sure my college applications stood out to college administrators. As a music student, I also worked extra hard to make sure my auditions went the way I wanted them to.

When March of my senior year rolled around, I had gotten acceptances and scholarships to all of my top reach schools, which included New York University and Boston Conservatory at Berklee College of Music, two very competitive music schools.

Yet, I felt like I didn’t deserve the opportunity.

My insecurity about my accomplishments soiled the feeling of relief and gratification I should have felt when receiving my decisions. 

Enter “imposter syndrome.”

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is condition that causes people believe they are “undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them,” according to Psychology Today.

When I was first introduced to the term “imposter syndrome,” I was speaking to a colleague of mine who shared the same insecurity, and my first reaction was relief.

Feeling like an imposter, my biggest fear was having someone see me as a fraud, or as undeserving of what I had accomplished. I feared that I didn’t have the skill to truly be a music student, and that I was at a much lower level than the colleagues around me.

However, what I didn’t realize was that often, the highest of achievers have the same fears and anxieties, and that I was not alone. 

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

There are many factors that play into the feeling of imposterism, but generally, it is a mix of personality traits and childhood background.

Those who experience imposter syndrome are often perfectionists, micromanagers and high achievers.

They may also struggle to recognize their own potential or level of ability.

Growing up in a high pressure and competitive environment is also common amongst people who struggle with Imposter Syndrome. People experiencing “gifted kid burnout” (a loose term referring to those who grew up in high-pressure academic environments) often feel an overwhelming feeling of self doubt and underachievement relating to Imposter Syndrome.

The feeling of imposterism isn’t only limited academically. It can show up in sports, hobbies, the workplace and even your personal life. 

It is super important to recognize and treat your imposter syndrome, as it can repress potential for growth. Imposter syndrome makes it hard to pursue new opportunities for personal growth, career growth and growth in relationships. Confronting it is a part of your self-improvement journey. 

How to Recognize Imposter Syndrome

The first step to any self improvement is identifying the problem in your own life. By recognizing you feel imposterism, you have already completed the first step to improving yourself. 

Imposter syndrome pops up in professional, academic and personal development, meaning you can experience imposter syndrome and not even know.

Reflect on your own life, and think about any time you felt out of place, or felt like it was difficult and uncomfortable to accept an accomplishment.

If you are having trouble in your reflection, ask yourself these questions:

Professionally, do you…

  • Avoid asking for a raise or benefits because you feel like you don’t deserve it?
  • Constantly worry you’re not successfully completing tasks in your workplace?
  • Fear you will be fired due to your poor performance?
  • Avoid applying for a job because you feel you see yourself as unfit with the qualifications? 

Academically, do you…

  • Get uncomfortable when someone congratulates you on an award or good mark?
  • Avoid asking for academic help because you feel as though you have to figure it out on your own?
  • Refuse to take any credit for anything you’ve done if you’ve been helped to accomplish it? 
  • Believe anything you accomplish is due to good luck and good timing? 

Personally, do you…

  • Feel out of place in your friend group due to their “higher” level of ability?
  • Avoid situations where your level of ability is exposed to your friend group (study hangouts, going to the gym together, etc)?
  • Feel as though the relationships people have made with you are due to them pitying you? 
  • Constantly feel like you’re hiding “bad character,” such as hiding your fraud or hiding your cheating? 
  • Work to please people and not yourself? 

How to Treat Imposter Syndrome

Limit Minimizing Language

People with imposter syndrome will often minimize their statements with language that reflects insecurity.

Minimizing language, such as “I think,” “I’m pretty sure” or “I could be wrong” can become overused among “imposters.” Being confident of your level of expertise is easier said than done. Try to consistently reflect on the hard work you have put into being the professional you are today. 

Know that “professional” does not mean “perfect.”

It means experienced and competent. When feeling imposterism, you may often feel at a lower level than the people around you. However, realize that part of being a true professional means being open minded and always being willing to self improve. Realize that the people around you all have room to improve and learn, and that we are just in different stages of the growth process. 

Give Yourself Credit

Imposter syndrome makes it hard for people to believe that their accomplishments are a product of hard work.

People experiencing imposter syndrome will often credit external causes they cannot control, such as good luck or good timing.

However, it is important to recognize the work you put into your accomplishments. Do not confuse giving yourself credit with being prideful or boastful. Having an obsessively high opinion of yourself and simply recognizing your hard work are two very different things.

Understand You Are Not a Superhuman

At the end of the day, we are all the same.

Our potential is limitless, but we also must hold ourselves to healthy realistic expectations.

Feeling like imposters, we often hold ourselves to high standards, and take failure very harshly. Some of us see ourselves to need to be natural experts. We expect ourselves to somehow know everything, and beat ourselves up when we don’t.

We also expect to handle new tasks with ease or else we will never have the natural ability to amount to anything.

We may also tell ourselves that we will never be good enough to reach our potential, a dangerous fixed mindset to live by.

Understand that harder goals take time, effort and dedication. 

Know You Are Not Alone

Around 70 percent of adults will experience imposterism at some point in their life, according to Psychology Today.

Do not be afraid to speak out to loved ones, most ideally, people outside of your performance circle. This allows for you to get someone from the outside to see your performance and give you an honest opinion of what they see. It also allows for a safe space to talk about your insecurity without the fear of character critique or fear of demotion. 

Realize that imposter syndrome is a hard cycle to break. You work hard to feel accomplished, but never feeling the gratification makes you work harder.

Do not be afraid to self care for your physical and mental health. And know you are always self improving, even when you don’t feel it. 

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