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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Impostor Syndrome

If you know me well (or have read this blog for much time at all), you know that I worry a lot. Like a lot a lot. Like about everything.

Every time I'm facing a new semester — or a new job or a new test or a new assignment — my tendency to worry manifests itself as Impostor Syndrome. No matter how well I have done in the past in similar situations, I am wholeheartedly convinced that I will fail in the future. I've somehow conned my way into my current situation, and it's only a matter of time before my inabilities are brought to light.

For example, I call my mom before almost every test and tell her that I'm going to fail. I haven't had enough time to study, and I don't understand the information, and I have six other projects that I'm trying to work on. And I'm going to FAIL.

(My brain continues: I'm not really cut out for grad school. Not bright enough for Missouri. Not as capable as the other students.

I hadn't even realized that I always did this until my mom pointed it out during one of my pre-test meltdowns back in my college days. She said something to the effect of, "Kate, you always call and say you're going to fail, and you never actually fail." (So now I'm aware of the fact that my breakdowns are unmerited, but I still have them.)

A few weeks ago, I was talking to some of my friends, and I was amazed to learn how many felt the same way about various situations in their lives. I knew these girls to be capable and smart and diligent. I could think of dozens of reasons to reassure my friends that their successes were deserved and that they would continue to succeed in the future. When it comes to my own successes, however, I never think I'll be able to keep up the act. 

This is what I'm dreading about the new semester. I'm dreading the feelings of Impostor Syndrome, dreading the sense of inadequacy and the anticipation of failure. I think hearing that my friends felt the same way was somewhat reassuring — not because I want them to feel incapable but because I know they aren't. And maybe the more these feelings get talked about, the more we'll be able to fend them off. 

p.s. In writing this blog, I came across this interesting Impostor Phenomenon test. I would definitely answer often or very true for almost all of the statements on the test. Yikes! Here are a few examples: 

  • I have often succeeded on a test or task even though I was afraid that I would not do well before I undertook the task.
  • I avoid evaluations if possible and have a dread of others evaluating me.
  • When people praise me for something I’ve accomplished, I’m afraid I won’t be able to live up to their expectations of me in the future.
  • I tend to remember the incidents in which I have not done my best more than those times I have done my best.
  • I rarely do a project or task as well as I’d like to do it.
  • I often worry about not succeeding with a project or examination, even though others around me have considerable confidence that I will do well.

Do you ever feel like an impostor?


  1. Kate I do this all the time, especially right before grades from the semester come out. It keeps us motivated to over achieve.

  2. I know exactly how you feel! We just have to realize that everyone is struggling in some way or another with feeling insecure about something in their life.

  3. I think that, to a certain degree, we are all like this. It's the consequence of in a world that determines your value based on the work you accomplish. I think you're probably just more honest with yourself than other people. Wait, that's confusing... honest about how you feel, not necessarily about the truth.

    Have you heard the phrase, "Fake it till you make it?" That's how I feel about confidence. I may not be confident, but I can pretend and maybe someday it'll sink it.

  4. Unfortunately, yes. My friends in high school all did, too. We had one friend who would always say she was going to fail, and we would say, "A B+ is NOT failing." She took to saying she was going to fail "with an F."

    I think, in a way, this type of realization that we can't accomplish is a good thing if and only if we're equally aware that God is the one who gives us the capability to do anything, from getting up in the morning to running a nation. You are cut out for grad school, Kate, because He has cut you out that way.

    I'm realizing that last statement could apply to myself, too, because life post-graduation scares me. But I am cut out for adulthood, by He who knew me and formed me before my birth.

  5. @Annie, great insight! I so agree with you. God is definitely teaching me this.


Please and thank you.

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