Opinion | Learning to combat imposter syndrome

Published by Megan John, Date: April 14, 2022
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I work for The Rocket, and I love my job. Anyone who knows me can vouch for that. But for the first several weeks – a month or two, even – I wondered if I shouldn’t have been hired. 

Google’s definition of imposter syndrome is accurate, but dull; “The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own effort or skills.”

It may be easier to explain by giving you a glimpse inside my head. Basically, my accomplishments don’t feel like my own. They never have. Every win is followed by downplaying and doubt. 

I got accepted into my dream college? Well, it has a high acceptance rate.

I went through major surgery and made a quick recovery? Well, I’m young and healthy, and people recover well from surgeries all the time.

I went to an out-of-state college, four hours away from home, and I’ve thrived on my own Well, it’s not a big deal. I don’t like to talk about my accomplishments. 

Mistakes, big or small, can be difficult to cope with. Take a recent article where I fell far behind the deadline, for example.

“Megan, you suck at your job.”

“You deserve the stress and the mental pain you’re feeling right now. You’ve earned it.”

“You’ve already screwed up so many times. I can’t believe they keep giving you grace.” 

No one said this to me; I said it to myself. It’s so easy to jump from, “You made a mistake,” to “You are a mistake,” and get sucked into a whirlpool of guilt and blame. 

Thankfully, our thoughts are not reality. We are all more than our flaws. 

Recently, I realized that I have more faith in myself than I used to.

I haven’t overcome the twinges of shock when I make people proud, or of anguish when I slip up, but I’m getting better. More confident. And damn it, I have every right to be proud of myself. 

I don’t feel qualified to give advice or even share my thoughts on mental wellness.

However, I’ll try to embrace this awkwardness instead of shrinking away from it. Here are a few changes I’ve made that worked for me. 

First, trick your brain a little bit. If you have trouble owning your success, like I do, move in the opposite direction. Separate yourself from your accomplishment. If you heard that someone else accomplished what you accomplished, would you be proud of them? If the answer is yes, then it’s okay to be proud of yourself. 

Second, focus on the facts. “I don’t deserve to have such an amazing job,” is an opinion, and a depressing one at that. But the facts say otherwise. I took a broadcast journalism class in high school. Some people who apply to The Rocket don’t have any experience yet. 

I had ideas to contribute to the paper. Most important of all, I really wanted to work there. And lo and behold, here I am, living my best life as a student journalist. When I look past my perception of myself, it’s easier to accept. Maybe I have earned my place here. 

Third, give yourself permission. You and I have as much right to exist in this world as anyone else. You’re allowed to accept compliments, feel confident and proud, and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Who’s stopping you? 

Share your wins with the people you trust. Even if you don’t feel proud, their positive feedback might lift you up. Hell, share your wins with strangers. They might think you’re strange, but positivity is contagious, and again, who is stopping you? There’s freedom in accepting that, technically, you can do whatever you want. Just try to use your powers for good. 

Last and most importantly, collect positive influences. Follow social media accounts that uplift you. Spend time in places where you feel safe. Fill your living space with things that make you happy. Develop a support system if you can. Sadly, that’s not possible for everyone. Positivity isn’t a cure, but when you’re drowning in self-doubt, even a little goes a long way. 

No one ever told me how to combat imposter syndrome. These are the words I needed when I was struggling, and if it helps any of you reading this, I’ll be overjoyed. 

I’m in a better place now. At The Rocket, the more responsibility I take on, the more self-assured I feel.

I’ve earned the right to brag a little. Look at the campus life section and count how many times you see my byline.

I am surrounded by people who see the good in me when I can’t see it in myself. Like I said before, we are all more than our flaws. I’m finally recognizing myself as a valuable person rather than a long list of mistakes. 

The most interesting advice I’ve received from someone else was simply, “Be confident.” At the time, my response was, “Easier said than done.” And it is.

However, if you can get through that frustrating, messy inner work, confidence will come. 

Thanks for reading. 

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