Impostor syndrome means you are not on your own

Jonathan Logan

Science & Environment Editor

 

We know you faked your way here. You know it, too. In fact, you have almost completely dissociated the person that has accomplished all of the wonderful things you have done from your own self. We know you can bust out a sick electro shuffle in your dorm room when your roommate goes to the bathroom, but it is probably more like an electro struggle at that banger of a party you went to (before the pandemic, obviously).

“Impostor syndrome”, a phenomenon coined by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s, describes a feeling felt by almost everyone ever that their accomplishments are not their own; that they faked their way to success. The feeling occurs when we are unable to attribute our successes, and more importantly, our failures, to ourselves. For some, impostor syndrome begins with the fear of failure. For others, it occurs when they encounter a body of knowledge so fascinating and unknowable that they begin to question their life up until that point.

Impostor syndrome is not formally recognized in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM) as a mental disorder which is correct. There is nothing wrong with you, whether or not some stupid book says there is. Impostor syndrome is something over 80 percent of Americans struggle with, according to a study by the National Institute of Health (NIH). The study found that it is just as prevalent among men and women as it is among old and young.

They found that by setting a series of outcome variables, such as work satisfaction, burnout and avoidance of promotion, impostor syndrome manifests itself in five ways: expertise, perfection, genius, soloism and heroism. Each one is self-explanatory, and anyone can fall into the trap of any or all of these responses. The NIH study found that these manifestations occur when an individual starts a new job, a new class at college or it could be a lifelong ebb and flow.

College students feel this rather acutely. We simultaneously deal with coming of age, political awakenings and even loss, all in the short time of four years. At orientation, different people who have been there and done that tell us how selective the process of making it to college was. Then, as we assimilate into our new college lives, we start to get our first few bad grades. This causes us to spiral and make career choices that do not match our capabilities. We get caught up in what professional skills we ought to develop instead of being curious. The end product is feeling tired and burnt out.

We all walk the tightrope of arrogance and humility forever; the arrogance displayed by acting like an expert, seeking unattainable perfection, acting like a natural, doing it all by yourself or throwing caution to the wind and playing the role of the hero who has been around the block; the humility displayed by caution, shyness, vulnerability or saying “no, you go first.” That tightrope can be lonely, but you are anything but alone.

We know you deserve to be here. You need to know it, too. Maybe you just need to practice that electro shuffle a bit more before he or she or they notice (winky face). Don’t exhaust yourself over the science of impostor syndrome or the root cause of it all. Tom Hanks has often commented on how fraudulent he feels. If the Tom Hanks can have impostor syndrome, then you are most certainly not alone. Competence is made out to be the end all, be all. Enjoy the process of becoming competent, do not get focused on the final product or the “been there, done that.” Remember that the best part of “Among Us” is being the impostor.