“What am I doing here?”
“I don’t belong here among all these awesome people.”
“They are going to find out that they made the wrong choice hiring me.”
These are some of the thoughts that occasionally run through my head.
Each time I venture to a new journey in life, extreme self doubt creeps in. When I got into grad school, I felt that I was not cutting the mustard. When I got my first job in career services, I had to reassure myself that I was hard worker with many achievements behind me. Regardless, I always felt like I didn’t deserve a seat at the table. I felt like I snuck up to the table undetected, knowing as soon as I got caught, I would be thrown out immediately. This constant fear of being “found out” as a fraud causes a huge amount of anxiety.
About a year ago, this anxiety led to the lowest point in my life. A very dark place of hopelessness and despair. I wasn’t sleeping well. I wasn’t eating well. I was irritable and constantly on the verge of tears. The slightest mistake at work or home would throw me completely off. I don’t want to go into full details, but let’s just say my mental health was tested to the max. There were a lot of things going on: I just started a new job, had my second son, and was feeling isolated from my friends due to a lot of responsibilities. It was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I eventually decided I needed to seek counseling and help. Through therapy and journaling, I started to feel better, but there was something still bugging me: I still felt that I was always behind in my job. Then one day I was scrolling on Facebook and I saw a video posted by one of my friends. It was called “What is imposter syndrome and how do you combat it?” In that moment, I understood why I never felt good enough despite all the positive feedback I received from colleagues, family members, and friends.
Imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. “Imposters” suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. The video I watched opened my eyes to a whole new world of thinking. I learned that even the people I looked up to experienced imposter syndrome. People who changed the world, like Albert Einstein and Maya Angelou.
As soon as I had a definition for my feeling — imposter syndrome — I felt equipped to attack it. I started recognizing the thoughts popping up in my head and would make a conscious effort to say, “this is not true. I worked hard to be here. I deserve to be here.” I think that a lot of our fears and doubts stem from feelings of loneliness and isolation. We believe we are the only ones to feel this way. The more I was vulnerable with others, the more I realized my peers felt imposter syndrome too. We all felt we didn’t belong and oddly enough, that made us belong.
One year later, I am doing well at work and my home life is ten times better than it was. I still feel out of place when I meet people of “higher status”, but I remind myself that they worked hard to get where they are in life and if I work hard too, I can grow. We all have our own paths in life and we are all moving at a different pace. I am not a fraud. I am living my truth and I work hard. All the successes I have achieved were earned, and I am grateful for all the help I have received along the way.
I know that if I allow negative thoughts to go unchecked, it could lead to paralyzing anxiety and depression. I don’t want to feel like that again and I will take the necessary steps to prevent it. I also have more empathy for others when they doubt themselves and make it a point to go out of my way to empower them. I know how low I felt, and I wouldn’t want anyone else to feel this way.
Now I repeat these phrases…
“I deserve to be here.”
“I earned a seat at the table with hard work and dedication.”
“I cannot compare myself to others because I do not truly know their journey and they don’t know mine.”
“I am proud of myself.”
Philip works at George Mason University as an Industry Advisor for Media, Arts, and Design. He resides in Burke, Virginia. He is married to his high school sweetheart and father to two boys. He also hosts a podcast called Positive Philter which focuses on positivity and well-being in everyday life.