“I feel like I have imposter syndrome with this new job,” my good friend said over brunch while explaining the details of her new position.
“What do you mean by imposter syndrome?” I asked while chewing on a french fry.
“You know when you just don’t feel like you should have the job or career you have because you doubt yourself unnecessarily,” she explained.
And for the record, my friend is not only the perfect person for her job, she’s highly educated and overqualified.
And then I understood. It was like a lightbulb went off. I have had a case of imposter syndrome for most of my adult life. I just oddly had never heard the term. Maybe that was because, as a female, I was afraid to acknowledge when I felt nervous, inadequate, or overwhelmed, especially in my career.
As women, we are told that we can do it all! Put a smile on your face and conquer the world! Don’t let anyone ever make you doubt yourself! You are capable! And we are! But that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of panic, especially ones that make us feel like we don’t belong at the grownup table or, worse, in the boys’ club.
According to Google, imposter syndrome is defined as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals. As a woman, it’s much easier to feel as if we don’t deserve to be where we are, especially when sometimes we have to work harder to prove ourselves. It’s even harder when you’re a mother. Can you keep up with all the responsibilities at home and work?
I remember feeling the wrath of imposter syndrome and then recognizing what it was later. It was my first year teaching in New York City. I had my Master’s degree and three years of teaching under my belt. I had an “observation lesson” where the principal came in and watched my lesson and graded my lesson plan, how the students behaved, if the material was sufficient and rigorous enough, and if the lesson was successful.
I was nervous after transitioning from a small private school to a larger public school that had a different approach. I let the students get out of their seats to see my science materials, and I didn’t use an exit ticket to assess their knowledge at the end of the lesson. My previous principal always let me lead, so I wasn’t used to being judged in a very structured way.
Let’s say that after my lesson and the lecture from my principal, I questioned my whole life choice. I was about to throw in the towel. What was I doing here? Did I not deserve to be here? Was I a fraud? Realistically, I knew I went to graduate school and earned my degree. I had a great portfolio and was loved by my old coworkers and students. Was it all a dream? Did I imagine my previous success?
After going home and crying into my pillow and then crying on the phone to my dad, I decided to put on my big girl pants and march into work the next day with the biggest smile. I took the criticism and used it as my fuel. I swallowed my anxiety and decided that I deserved to be here, that I earned it. Nobody was going to make me feel less than.
I eventually proved to my boss, after my second observation lesson, that I was there to succeed. Not only did I deserve to be at my job, but I wanted her to feel like she was lucky to have me and that I was an asset. And to do that, I had to stop second-guessing myself and letting my anxiety and fear rule me. I won her over after that, and since then, I have given myself some grace.
As a perfectionist, imposter syndrome can run deep.
A few months ago, while looking at job postings, I saw a few that immediately triggered me. I might not be qualified enough, I thought. But then I scrolled down and looked at the necessary qualifications and saw that everything that was listed was what I had, and then some.