Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? Like your friends or colleagues are going to discover you’re a fraud, and you don’t actually deserve a job you have earned or merit respect for your accomplishments?
If so, you’re in good company. These feelings are known as impostor syndrome, or what psychologists often call “impostor phenomenon.” An estimated 70% of people experience symptoms associated with impostor syndrome at some point in their lives. I have been asked by one of my followers on Instagram to share my experience regarding how I dealt with imposter syndrome, which has precipitated the following.
First of all, what exactly is imposter syndrome?
The imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Not an actual disorder, the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have.
I have to admit that I did not feel much like an imposter in my undergraduate program. I was surrounded by people who looked and sounded like me or had similar life experiences as immigrants. As an immigrant from Benin, at York College in New York City I was surrounded by people I could relate to, I was not self-conscious about the little things like other people being unable to understand my accent or that I did not belong. Although I was the Premed Club president, I avoided the cutthroat Premed students. I found that hanging out with the non-premed student and joining other organizations to be more relaxing. However, the feeling of being an imposter grew more as I began to leave my comfort zone, my undergraduate program, and began to do research and internships at other institutions.
I think when I really felt the most like an imposter was in graduate school during my Master of Biomedical Science at Duke University. I honestly didn't know what imposter syndrome was until we had a guest speaker lecturing about her experience dealing with imposter syndrome in higher education. That day, not only did I realize that imposter syndrome was a thing but I also learned that many of my classmates and I also were experiencing the symptoms of imposter syndrome. At the end of the presentation when the lecturer asked us in the audience if we have ever felt like an imposter, nearly everyone raised their hand.
As an incoming medical student, I realize that the feeling of being an imposter will never leave me. I will most likely feel like an imposter for the rest of my medical education. So instead of worrying about it, I use it as a motivation.
After I was able to define what imposter syndrome is and realize that I have experienced it at different institutions, I now know that it is more important to believe that I belong at those institutions--after all, I was accepted because of my hard work. When I don’t fit in with the "cool kids", I find other people I can relate to and hang out with.
Throughout this process, I also learned that it is more important to be patient and believe in myself.