I’m sure that there have been moments in all our lives where we have felt that we don’t belong. Whether that came from getting on the wrong school trip bus, getting the time of the film wrong and sitting through an un-dubbed, un-subtitled, foreign war film, or something we feel when we are at work or school.
When feelings of being an outsider arise in settings where we absolutely should be, where we have definitely earned our place, we call it imposter syndrome.
During my bachelor’s degree, I did not feel like I didn’t belong. I found the material stimulating but not difficult to understand. The interactions I had with other students on my course didn’t leave me feeling less than and I genuinely believed that I could not only complete my BSc in forensic psych but that I could also take my studies and career further by doing a master’s degree, ultimately working towards a license to practice as a therapist or psychologist. So that’s what I did. I applied to lots of different MSc’s, and amazingly got offers for a few of them. I was feeling good about myself when I accepted an offer from a highly sought-after London university.
I attended my first tutorial fully prepared with my notes from the lectures (all online of course!), ready to debate with the other students in my class. But by the end of the first hour, even if I wanted to say something, I couldn’t bring myself to unmute my microphone and offer my point of view. Now, it’s probably important to note that if I learned anything from school reports over the years it’s that I’ve always been quiet in educational settings, but this was different. I was a fully grown adult now and I should have the wherewithal to say what I think or how I interpreted something, but I didn’t, and it frustrated me.
This inability to properly contribute continued throughout the first semester of my degree and, despite getting OK grades on my reports, essays, and exams, I wanted to make a good impression on my advisor and my classmates. I wanted to prove that I deserved my place on the course and that I was capable, so over the Christmas break, I worked on getting out of my head to try and be more present in the virtual classroom and actually start contributing something of value to classes.
What I came up with were simple acts and affirmations that I use to build my confidence when I am in a class and starting to feel like an imposter. Firstly, I write an affirmation just before I enter the classroom, something that relates to my abilities that will give me a little confidence boost when I need it. It can really be anything, and then I repeat it in my head just before the class starts to get myself into the right mindset.
I also found that engaging properly in the group chat set up for our class was really helpful in getting to know my classmates on a more personal, more human level. Recognising that they were more than their brilliant answers and insights in class and realising that they were struggling with and confused about the same things that I was, was really reassuring and made me feel less alone and isolated. It can be difficult to connect properly with new people when we cannot socialise with them, but a group chat can be a great way of bonding while we cannot be together.
The final thing I committed to change in order to break through the imposter syndrome was my daily routine. This one is a big one but bear with me. I worked out that a lot of my insecurities and feelings of inadequacy were rooted in comparison and seeing other people doing the things that I wanted to do, being the people I wanted to be. This probably stemmed from social media and then spilt over into online studying, but the solution is the same. If I want to be the sort of person who gets up early and works out, then I need to start being that person.
If I want to have my house looking aesthetically pleasing, I need to keep on top of decluttering and cleaning. If I want to be the sort of person who shines in my class I need to start behaving like the people who shine, do all the extra reading, ask the questions (no question is a stupid one). While these changes can take a while to stick, it does make me feel better, knowing that I am actively taking steps to become the person I want to be, building my confidence to the point I want it to be one day at a time.
Imposter syndrome can last from a couple of weeks at the start of a semester or starting a new job, and often it will dissipate as you settle into your role or course. However, for some people, it can be a persistent feeling that can really affect our productivity and the way that we interact with our work and those around us. When we experience prolonged imposter syndrome, it can have a devastating effect on our mental health and our career or academic progression. I hope that maybe the tips in this article can help you if you struggle with these feelings, and know that you are not alone, and you are more than capable of doing anything you put your mind to! Be kind to yourself.