Just Faking It: Imposter Syndrome and the Capable Mind

It has been a week of many inductions. I begun my MA at York University, and as a research student, I’m not one of the normal masters students, and I’m certainly not a PhD student. I think I’m one of a very small handful who decide to do their MA by research, and for this reason, I’ve been suffering from imposter syndrome.

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For those of you who aren’t familiar, imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon whereby the individual is unable to recognize, or rather, internalise their own accomplishments. So, this next part is going to make me sound like a big-headed lunatic, but just as an example…I KNOW that my intellect deems me worthy of a place here, I KNOW that my research is of some value and will continue to stimulate me academically for twelve months, and I KNOW I am capable of writing 40, 000 words. I love words! However, there seems to be no escaping that feeling that everyone around me is somehow more put together, capable of forming superior ideas, and most significantly– better at articulating them. I feel like a fraud, and that’s imposter syndrome.

From what I can tell, impostor syndrome is fairly common amongst post-graduate students, but I don’t think its exclusive to academics. I, for one, have felt its cold clutches from juncture to juncture, and I know I’m not alone.

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Throughout our childhood and teenage years, objective measures of success give us the opportunity to prove ourselves time and time again. Be it GCSE grades, the gold medal on sports day, or the all-encompassing degree classification, we are constantly told what is good. We are informed of our successes, usually on a piece of paper, but much of the time, we move onto the next milestone without taking a moment to take in our achievements.

But what happens when we grow up? There are very few tests in adult life – well, not the kind that you want to take – and when we do face them, more often than not, they fall into one of two categories:

  1. They are not skill-based – therefore there is no failing. For example, pregnancy tests, blood pressure tests, etc.
  1. Eventual success is both expected and conventional – therefore we take it for granted. I’m talking about things like driving tests, the practice run for birthday cake you promised to make, or even a good reference from a former boss for a new job.

Either way, we usually ignore or scrutinise our accomplishments, question their authenticity, and wonder if we deserve to be in the places they take us. Most commonly, we constantly compare ourselves – negatively – to others; without taking a moment to consider our own conquests.

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I’ve met a lot of people in the last few days, but only one out-and-proud fellow impostor syndrome sufferer. I think most people just don’t want to talk about it for fear of being found out.

The moral of the story? Stop feeling like a fraud and learn to enjoy your accomplishments.

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