How to Beat Imposter Syndrome

How to Beat Imposter Syndrome

When I walked into the morning orientation session on my first day, tired and badly in need of a coffee, my emotions were pretty mixed. While I was excited to explore D.C., learn more about The Washington Center and meet new people, excitement wasn’t the only thing I was feeling. As I looked down the rows of neat suits and high heels, I experienced an overwhelming surge of doubt, all centering around one thought: ‘Do I really belong here?’


Self-doubt is something I’ve struggled with almost all my life, and I’ve been told it even has a term to go with it: Imposter Syndrome. Essentially, it’s the idea that despite your competence and accomplishments, you don’t deserve to be where you are because you perceive the people around you as having done and accomplished more.


Credit to azilliondollarscomics

Courtesy of A Zillion Dollars


It’s why despite the fact that I filled out the same application as everyone else and went through the same process, I ended up in a room full of my peers wondering if I had really done enough to fit in here. Listening to an endless stream of impressive accomplishments and internships from each person I met ended up overwhelming me.


While it’s never a feeling that goes away, there have been a few occurrences throughout my time here that have helped me overcome Imposter Syndrome. One of the first ones came during my Friday LEAD Colloquium session. During this session, we had a lecture where we identified our strengths, and the instructor explained that when approaching problems, you should focus on using the strengths you already have to solve them.


The example that our instructor gave was that when approaching a group project, someone with a talent for charisma might use their natural personality to motivate the group. Another person, who might not possess charisma but has high analytical skills, might focus on identifying strategies that allow everyone to best work together. Both approaches achieve the same goals, but in different ways.


For me, it was a lightbulb moment. When I looked at someone else accomplishing a task, I tried to focus on how I would solve it instead of being discouraged or jealous by someone solving it in a way I couldn’t have. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t some magic switch that flipped in my brain that suddenly solved all my confidence issues. However, knowing that there was another way of viewing both myself and the people around me has made a difference. From here on out, my goal is to practice looking at things from that more productive, positive perspective.


While the lecture helped, something that has helped just as much is actually talking to the people I spent so much time being intimidated by on that first day. In those initial interactions, I was intimidated by a lot of the experiences, internships and skills they told me about. However, I’ve found that once I get to know them, those same people often feel exactly the same way. For example, a person who I admired for being so at ease making introductions recently told me that she really liked the way I do my elevator pitch; even a small moment like that reminded me that it’s important to take a step back and recognize my own strengths too, rather than being discouraged by other people’s.


If you were reading this and experiencing flashbacks to a moment just like mine, standing in a crowd of people and feeling as though you didn’t earn your spot there, take a moment to step back and breathe. In all likelihood, half the people in the room are probably looking at you and feeling exactly the same way. Acknowledge moments like that, but don’t let them weigh you down – remind yourself that other people’s accomplishments don’t diminish yours.


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