We recently asked the the BuzzFeed Community to tell us what they wished people knew about impostor syndrome. Here are some of the responses.
"Impostor syndrome is just this weird feeling I have that somehow I got where I am by accident. I just started vet school, and I constantly feel like I didn't deserve to get in, even though I obviously did or I wouldn't be here. I constantly wonder when they're going to come and tell me that my acceptance letter was a mistake (even though the dean personally called to tell us we were accepted). It's like this feeling that I could have worked harder or done something better, but apparently I'm doing just fine."
– Ashley Payne, via Facebook
"Me: *gets a 100% on calc exam*
Also me: But I promise you I cannot do maths"
"At work, sometimes I literally wait for someone to approach me and tell me I don't know what I'm doing. No matter how many good appraisals I get or praise from people, in my head I feel like I'm clueless and it's only a matter of time before I'm found out."
"I experienced impostor syndrome all through my degree and master's degree. I'd get sleepless nights thinking I'd failed and let my family down. I had multiple breakdowns, even though I consistently got good marks. People would think I was covering my back by saying I thought my work was awful – it used to really frustrate them. They probably thought I was attention seeking. In actual fact I just had no ability to see my own strengths and talent."
– Sophie, via Twitter
"It's bigger than self-doubt. It's self-depreciation and the feeling that no matter what I achieve, I won't be able to believe that I'm good enough – even if others believe I go above and beyond. It's both a motivator to keep achieving and a negative, nagging shadow reminding me it's never going to be enough.
"I used to go out for all-region choir every year, which is a special thing you have to try out for, because I love music. Every year, however, I went into the room thinking I was going to fail and get a horrible score and came out wishing I were dead. I still felt like I hadn't done well when I got the results back later and placed somewhere in the top forty. It eventually got to the point where I had an panic attack on my way back to the waiting room."
"I’m in the fourth year of my physics degree and so far I’ve got grades in the top few people in the year each year, yet I’m still convinced this is the year I will fail! I feel like I’m suddenly going to be found out, that I’m only good at learning stuff for exams, and that my master's project is going to expose me as I actually have to work independently [on it]. It’s not fun always feeling like I’m struggling to get by!"
– Lily, via Twitter
"It affects me most in relationships. It's so hard to get close to someone, open up and believe they really like you. I never feel truly comfortable or loved. I feel like they're not seeing the real me, that whey they actually like is fake?"
"I'm a girl doing a STEM degree at a high-ranking university, and I can't remember a time when I've not been affected by impostor syndrome in some way or another. When I was going through my GCSEs and A-levels it became nearly overwhelming and contributed to other mental health issues I had brewing at the time. Now I've recovered from those, I actually find occasional bursts of doubt about my own ability useful. They help motivate me to work hard and push myself to achieve things that I might not have gone for otherwise.
My advice to people still struggling to come to terms with how imposter syndrome is making them think is to try and keep things in perspective – look at your achievements, consider the concrete evidence of how much you've done and learned – and to talk about it with your friends. In all likelihood other people are feeling exactly the same!"
"I have trouble charging for my work, because I feel like a four-year-old asking someone to buy my macaroni art."
"My impostor syndrome is tied directly to my anxiety, as well as my identity as a bisexual woman. Even though I have identified as bi for over a decade now, I feel like I don't have as much 'right' to include myself in the LGBTQ community because I am married to a man. It's also super difficult because I am not out to many of my friends and/or family, and it makes me feel like an imposter that I am presenting as straight rather than the queer person I am and always have been."
"Feeling like an imposter leads me to second guess myself a lot at work. I'm constantly undermining myself with 'This is probably a silly question' or 'you could do probably do a better job than me, I'll let you take the lead' and occasionally counting myself out entirely because I'd never be able to do a good job on a certain project."
"I spend so much time living in fear that some is going to call me out on my shit. It doesn't matter how much experience I have in a certain or how much I have prepped I still assume people will see right through me."
"About two years ago I was planning my suicide but after starting with some pills, I panicked and drove to the ER. It was very close. I was inpatient with a group and I told them that I didn't even call myself a cancer survivor because I didn't even feel like my cancer was 'real enough' to count. I think I even said I felt like an imposter because others suffer so much more than I did. I was lucky."
"I've just received a promotion at work to be a direct assistant to a manager who always thanks me and tells me he appreciates the work I do. Every time, I respond 'I'm just doing my job'. I think he's overestimated me and I'm afraid I won't be able to perform well in my new role. I'm also too afraid to ask for a pay raise and a new contract, despite the fact it's a significant change in my role, because I don't really feel like I've earned it".
"Even though I know I graduated with good grades from a good university and got a good job, I always feel that it was luck, rather than my own brains, determination, and skill, that got me where I am. I feel like I'm going to be fired any minute, even though I work for a large corporation that rarely fires people, especially in the early years of their career (which I'm in).
Example: My company has a monitor by the elevator banks where you type in your name, it pulls up your account, and you choose a desk for the day. I misspelt my name, and so my account didn't come up as a result. My first thought wasn't 'Oh, I must have made a mistake in the spelling', it was 'My name isn't showing up because I've been fired and erased from the system'."
– Marianne Malia, via Facebook
"Impostor syndrome severely affects my mindset when at work. I’m a makeup artist training for a senior artist position at a retail store, and i can’t accept compliments on my work. There’s always something I missed, or something I could have done better. I always fear that management is talking about me negatively at their meetings and then they’ll realise that I’m not meant to live up to the position that I dream of. Praise feels fake and forced, but at the same time if i’m not receiving praise, I feel like I did an awful job."
"I'm an undergraduate taking graduate level courses and participating in advanced research. Anytime someone asks me a question, no matter how much I've studied the answer or rehearsed responding, I freeze. I'm too afraid I'll say something wrong, everyone will find out I'm not as smart as they think, and be kicked out of the program, kicked out of school."
"I was asked to write a job advertisement for a more junior version of my role. Every time I read it I think 'Ooooh, I wouldn't feel confident applying for that.' It's MY ACTUAL JOB."
– Stephanie Wright, via Facebook
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.
Kelly Oakes is science editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
Contact Kelly Oakes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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