– Michelle, Illinois
Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon where an individual feels fraudulent regarding their own achievements and attributes their success to luck or other external factors; it especially prevalent among high-achieving women.
I first heard of imposter syndrome when I was studying physics at university–a field dominated by men. I earned very high marks, but still felt intelligently inferior to my peers. Despite the mountain of evidence that describes me as the textbook definition imposter syndrome, I still felt more like an imposter to imposter syndrome.
One of the more revealing moments in my career was during my undergraduate senior thesis course. Each student was required to make a poster and present it to professors of the physics department. I thought some of my pitches went poorly, was disappointed in my lack of ability to project myself as a scientist and I even cried that night with dissatisfaction.
Sometimes I deserve things that I think I am unworthy of.
The participating professors had to rank each student’s performance and during the next class the results were announced. I looked at who was chosen for third and second place, and started comparing myself to them, when all of a sudden the instructor said I was chosen the best poster presentation! It was only a class of about 20 students but it still felt good (especially since I was the only girl).
I still struggle with imposter syndrome and I have the ugly habit of comparing myself to others, but it is nice to have some evidence that I can be too hard on myself. That award reminds me of my successful poster presentation, but more importantly it reminds me that sometimes I deserve things that I think I am unworthy of.