Challenge the Imposter Syndrome

Although some people can regularly fake their personas and accomplishments,  we aren’t all fakes or frauds. 

The imposter syndrome makes us think that we’re frauds, wracks us with unnecessary self doubt and detracts from our efforts to be successful.  

A feeling that one is an an imposter shouldn’t make sense. However, the feeling can be so insidious that it can often consume a person.

At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” – Mike Myers, Comedian

Many of us can think, “I’m fake. I’m pretending. I actually don’t know much. If I can do this, anyone could have. People will find out. I’ll embarrass myself. and be disappointing.”

“I don’t deserve praise.”

“I have written eleven 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.’” Maya Angelou, Author

The syndrome shows up among students and professors at top institutions. You’re not alone if you have the imposter syndrome.  Like many around us, famous or not, several of us suffer from it. (It isn’t uncommon for professors to feel insecure about their level of competency and expertise.)

Scientists … are especially vulnerable, largely because they work in a hero-oriented field that treats its highest achievers as if they were sports stars, leaving many others to wonder in silence whether they are second-stringers or worse. “Young people think that no one else is having these feelings,…Chris WoolstonFaking it, Nature 529,555-557 (2016).

Engineering students follow a demanding curriculum and can have personal ups and downs. During those downs, students with impostor feelings can over-internalize failure.

Just because you’ve hit a roadblock or are wrong, this doesn’t mean you’re a fraud. One of the hardest things to do is to learn from failure so that you can better inform your future successes. 

Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are – impostors with limited skills or abilities.” Sheryl SandbergLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Although they may have advanced professionally, people with they syndrome are not as happy with their jobs as their other colleagues are.

The imposter syndrome harms well being.  If you recognize it, realize that you have the syndrome and get rid of it. It can be a recipe for unhappiness.

You’re a high achiever if you’re a McMaster Engineering student. Our programs have excellent first-year retention rates between 94 and 97 percent, which are among the best in the world. You deserve to be here.  We didn’t make a mistake by admitting you! 

Turn weakness into a strength.  The impostor syndrome prevents us from becoming too egotistical so that we are able to more readily realize our limits and seek guidance when we need it.

Step back, take a breath and reflect upon what is real and what you have presumed. You’re  surrounded by nurturing people and mentors.

Realize that you’re not alone if you experience the syndrome. Many others also struggle with it.


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