Feeling Out of Place? You May Have Imposter Syndrome

The first step to dealing with imposter syndrome is understanding and acknowledging it. Read on to find out how.

After putting up with countless all-nighters, never-ending practice questions, and a handful of anxiety-driven interviews, you’ve finally achieved your goal — a prestigious education in the university of your dreams.

People all around you applaud your achievement. You should be feeling elated! Instead, feelings of inadequacy and fraudulence seek refuge in your mind, doubting whether the accomplishments you received were mere coincidence and luck. 

Have you ever felt that? Then, my dear readers, you may be suffering from imposter syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome and Its Meaning

Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern where an individual begins to doubt themselves being amateurish and has a persistent internalised fear of being caught as a fraud because other people may misjudge their character as being competent.

You often see in day-to-day occurrences where, in spite of external evidence of your attainment proving yourself to be a qualified individual of praise and veneration, you’re more often compelled to react in an undeserving manner, unworthy of the magnitude of esteem. Instead, you’d attribute and dedicate your success to luck and being convinced you’ve managed to deceive others into believing that you’re more intelligent than you credit yourselves to be. 

Although the meaning of imposter syndrome may be simple enough to understand, the reality is that there are different types that one could identify with. Do you identify with any of them?

A girl in a light pink sweater, with her hand on her chin, thinking

The Different Kinds of Imposter Syndrome and Its Symptoms

1. The Perfectionist

If you can’t stop thinking about how you should’ve done this instead of what you’ve already done, you could be the perfectionist. These people fixate on their flaws rather than emphasising their strengths which could potentially lead to an insurmountable amount of self-inflicted anxiety and pressure that can’t be satiated.

2. The Expert

Similar to the perfectionist, you're the expert. These individuals are constantly trying to learn more and are never content with their level of understanding and expertise. Oftentimes, you’d find yourself enrolling for a new short programme or even going for a course to get certified for a particular subject. The need to always know more may result in a feeling of never knowing enough to move forward.

3. The Natural Genius

Do you often find yourself unsatisfied with your goals? And then feeling like you’ve let the world down when you don’t have answers from the get go? Behold, the natural genius

A grid notebook with the Goals written on a sticky note.

Unlike the expert, these groups of individuals set themselves with exigent goals and feel obligated to succeed on their very first try — without much initial need to study or research about it.

4. The Superhero

Finding yourself clocking in extra hours just to prove your worth? Risking your own mental health to make up for the ‘lack of expertise’ even when everyone’s saying you’re doing a good job? Then, you could be the superhero.

These individuals define themselves as being incompetent. Hence, they’re often convinced that there’s a need to put in the extra work in order to be worthy of the perception that people have of them.

Think of it as gaslighting yourself without realising it.

A man trying to shield himself with boxes labelled 'work', 'deadline', 'anxiety', and 'problems'

5. The Soloist

Feeling like you don’t deserve something if it’s not done entirely on your own? Consider yourself a soloist. These lone wolves refuse to seek external assistance as they presume receiving help from others is a sign of inadequacy and weakness. But this also sometimes means completing tasks longer since many hands make work light.

Imposter Syndrome Can Happen to Anyone

Imposter syndrome is, surprisingly, a common phenomenon that almost everyone has experienced at many points in their lives. Perhaps you’d think that successful, famous people don’t suffer from imposter syndrome, but, in fact, the opposite is more likely to be accurate. 

Maya Angelou, who wrote 11 books, still felt that she didn’t deserve her accomplishments and had a constant fear of people thinking and finding out what a fraud she made herself out to be. Albert Einstein also faced imposter syndrome and described himself as an involuntary swindler, where the attention and esteem for his frivolous work were overly exaggerated.

“Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.” 

Maya Angelou on having imposter syndrome.

How Pluralistic Ignorance Causes Imposter Syndrome

Everyone’s susceptible to a phenomenon called pluralistic ignorance, where we each doubt ourselves privately while we feel that everyone around us is succeeding. 

We think to ourselves that we’re the only ones who’re incompetent and undeserving because people rarely voice out their doubts. The feeling of fraudulence is extremely mundane and, unfortunately, there isn’t a threshold where you can put this feeling at ease.

As a result, these intense feelings of impostorism can sometimes hinder people from sharing revolutionary ideas, applying for their dream jobs or programmes where they could excel, and many more.

A black man with sticky notes that has different words revolving around the difficulties faced.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

The best way to combat imposter syndrome is to have open conversations about it — and the conversation doesn’t have to be a big revelation! It could be as simple as knowing the existence of these terms for what you’re feeling which can be a big relief to many. Once you’re aware of the phenomenon, collecting and revisiting positive feedback can help in combating your own imposter syndrome.

Another way of looking at imposter syndrome is that you should be aware of your incompetence. When we’ve feelings of imposter syndrome, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of negative feelings and doubts. Instead of sinking your own boat and completely freezing, hone your skills to curb the predicament that you’re facing.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, CEO of Atlassian once said, “The most successful people that I know don’t question themselves. However, they heavily reflect upon themselves regularly on their ideas and knowledge and aren’t afraid of asking for advice to hone their skills, ideas, and knowledge in order to improve and learn.”

We may never be able to banish this feeling from ourselves, but what’s important is that we must be aware of its existence.

Let it fuel our inner ambition and motivate us to be more competent individuals.

Calligraphy of inspiring quote

Lorraine Lee Wen Jing is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) at Taylor's University. She’s an EXCO member of the Malaysian Students’ Surgical Society and the co-founder of Taylor’s University Surgical Society. She enjoys reading while listening to her Spotify playlist and playing basketball with her pals, but often opts for long naps and tea to power through her day.