This past Friday, my friend Adrienne and I were making our way home from dinner in Ashland, discussing our career accomplishments, scholastic hopes and dreams and life in general, the way that friends do.
I graduate from college this Spring, earlier than a majority of my high school peers due to my participation in the post-secondary enrollment program (now known as College Credit Plus) where I earned both high school and college credits through Shawnee State.
I remember half joking with Adrienne that I felt the whole thing was a sham, that someone should tell me I’m not actually graduating and instead of handing me a diploma, they were actually just going to hand me a piece of blank paper.
It was then that Adrienne pointed out that she thinks I have imposter syndrome. A simple Google search later, I found myself agreeing with her.
- You feel like you “got lucky” when you actually prepared well and worked hard.
- You find it hard to accept praise.
- You apologize for yourself when you didn’t actually do something wrong.
- You hold yourself to incredibly — sometimes impossibly — high standards.
- You find the fear of failure paralyzing.
- You avoid expressing confidence because you think people will see it as overcompensating or obnoxious.
- You’re convinced you’re not enough.
If any of the above sounds familiar, you might have imposter syndrome too.
The term, impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Imposter syndrome refers to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
In their research they state, “In the past five years we have worked in individual psychotherapy, theme-centered international groups, and college classes with over 150 highly successful women — women who have earned PhDs in various specialties, who are respected professionals in their fields, or who are students recognized for their academic excellence. However, despite their earned degrees, scholastic honors, high achievement on standardized tests, praise and professional recognition from colleagues and respected authorities, these women do not experience an internal sense of success. They consider themselves to be “impostors.” Women who experience the impostor phenomenon maintain a strong belief that they are not intelligent; in fact they are convinced that they have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”
According to their research, up to 70 percent of women find themselves feeling this way at one point or another. While imposter syndrome does occur in men, Clance and Imes find that it is rare but more research is still being done on the subject.
I find myself in these shoes more often than not. When I got home that night after talking with Adrienne, I laid down in my bed and I tried to think back to when I first started discrediting myself and feeling like a phony. For me, it started back in 2012 when I went to take the admissions test for the Post-Secondary program.
I remember my guidance counselor approaching me about the program, telling me I would be a good fit, that she thought I was capable. You were accepted based on two things, your GPA and a standardized test score, either the American College Test (ACT) or Shawnee’s college placement test. If you tested into their 1101 course and didn’t place into a remedial math course, you were accepted.
I tested above 1101 and tested where I needed to be for math. I remember being shocked, thinking, “well there must have been a mistake, there is no way that I could have tested THAT high.” I remember being in my first semester, and passing all my courses with flying colors, and the next semester, and the semester after that. I’m not trying to sound pretentious and say that I wasn’t met with difficulties, that I didn’t spend many nights staying up far too late studying, or that I didn’t forget an essay or a homework assignment every now and again. But I just didn’t feel like I was doing well, that when a professor complimented my work it was just an obligatory ‘good job,’ and not sincere. I felt like the rug could be pulled out from under me at any minute and I would just come toppling down, back where I belonged. After all, I am a first generation college student, how dare I step outside of my lower-class social station?
This eventually leaked over into all aspects of my life. When I got hired at the Times for example, in my mind, it wasn’t due to the merit of my work, my work ethic, my experience and learning capabilities. It was due simply to the fact that I graduated from high school with our publishers son, I surely wasn’t qualified, they must have been desperate. When I moved departments from customer service to editorial, I felt like I had tricked everyone. I wasn’t a good writer, I still don’t believe that I am.
When I step back and look at my life, I realize I have accomplished a lot and there are a lot of things in my life that others would feel proud of. But I feel next to nothing, if anything, I just feel anxiety ridden about it, still feeling like I am faking it all. I graduated at the top of class, I was accepted into some of the top schools in our state but felt I wouldn’t measure up, that there was a mistake, and settled on Shawnee (which I’ve come to dearly love). I am graduating college two months after my 21st birthday, with my bachelors degree in English. I am conditionally accepted to several graduate schools, I have a good job that I enjoy and I have a house and wonderful husband. I just repeat this laundry list of accomplishment to myself and still I hear the voices in the back of my head saying, “mistake,” “imposter,” and “fraud.”
Now that I recognize and understand what imposter syndrome is, I know that I can find help and I can learn how to cope with it and try to move past it. I hope that this small piece of editorial can help someone else out there. And remember you ARE enough as you are in this moment.
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-981-6977, Facebook “Ciara Conley - Daily Times,” and Twitter @PDT_Ciara.