Imposter syndrome is self-doubt in your experience and skills to accomplish a task or take on a responsibility, in spite of prior accomplishments and successes. You may frequently feel insecure about yourself, you may not think that you deserve any praise for your work, you may deny responsibility over your accomplishments, believing that luck or other external factors are the causes of your success. In 1978, clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes named the phenomenon as “Imposter Syndrome” after interviewing women who were highly successful in their careers with university degrees and professional recognition yet feared their success had come about by mistake. You may have also experienced the inclination to think that others will find out about your incompetence; that, someday, you’ll be unmasked and someone will realize that you’re really a fake. Although the syndrome is not an actual psychological disorder, the condition is prevalent and, not to mention, overwhelming! According to a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, approximately 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome at some time in their lives.
I have come across Imposter Syndrome plenty of times but the most recent was late September. I applied for an internship at a non-profit organization in the summertime to build work experience in the mental health field. I was extremely nervous because although I know a lack of experience in the career I’m interested in is perfectly okay, I was afraid that no work experience in general could dampen the chances of interning at the organization. I’ve only worked at one job since I was 17 years old. I had to interview for the internship, of course. With only having had two interviews before (one at a senior home and another for the place where I work now), I didn’t feel like I could sell myself well as a professional and responsible candidate. The interview was the initial worry at first --- but then I was accepted into the position. As happy as I was, I couldn’t shake off the nerves about the actual internship! I really wanted to intern at the organization but I wondered if I would really do well at administrative work.
Imposter Syndrome is all about skepticism over your capacities in both new and old experiences. Throughout high school, I rarely participated in volunteer work other than one-time events. The skepticism on whether I could well was intense. After the interview, the next time I spoke with the executive director of the organization, we had a chat about what the other interns were up to. The tasks sounded like they would be a lot of fun to be a part of. There were times where I couldn’t keep up with the conversation because at one time she talked about a software that I had no knowledge of, and the insecurities came back. I went along with the conversation, ‘faking confidence’, just like the old saying we hear on repeat. The lack of experience is ultimately the whole point of working as a student intern. We all have to start somewhere, and more often than not, that “somewhere” is scary.
When you’re diving into something new like joining a school club, a sports team, or starting a job, as you’re becoming used to the ins-and-outs, ask for other people’s feedback for an objective opinion about your work performance. These objective opinions include compliments, too. The more that I heard, “Great job,” “Thanks!”, sweet comments like “You’re a fast learner!” or critiques, internalizing both the good and bad comments was a way to motivate myself to keep making the best out of a situation. Furthermore, being accepted into a job position or as a student at a university means you were chosen for a reason and you have every right to be a part of that job or university (as an example). You may fear that you’re not good enough because there are people who are far more talented and accomplished. You’re right. You’ll always encounter people who are better than you --- that’s a plain fact. You may not be the most talented but, the good news is, you can be the “hardest worker in the room” as Dwyane Johnson once remarked. And, on the flip side, you might even be working with people who are far from perfect. You do not have to worry about getting rid of thoughts of your insecurities because they will come up some way or another throughout our lives, even after you’ve reached adulthood --- but you can recognize that they exist and succeed, anyway. Your family and friends believe in your talent and skill. You can, in turn, believe in them for their judgement about your work and capacities.
If you find that Imposter Syndrome interferes with your motivation at school and other commitments, visit your school counselor and let them know. They’re there to guide you through the troubles that you encounter throughout the semesters. For extra support, reach out to a professional or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline (1-800-662-4357) for US residents. For UK residents, please visit samaritans.org for further mental health assistance.
I believe in you!
Teenagers With Experience is an organisation created to provide teenagers worldwide with an online platform to share their own experiences to be able to help, inform and educate others on a variety of different topics. We aim to provide a safe space to all young people. You can contact us via email, social media or our contact form found on our home page.