by Kelly Chia, Staff Writer
“I don’t know enough to be good at this job.”
“There are so many things wrong with this. They’re all going to think I’m a fraud.”
“You should know better by now. How do you make the same mistake over and over again?”
Phrases like this litter my mind constantly, and it’s tiring. I harboured these feelings for a long time before I learned they were symptoms of imposter syndrome — a psychological pattern where people fear being exposed as a fraud because they doubt their skills and accomplishments.
I worry that I can never produce something as good as what I have made in the past. Because most of the work I do is creative, I always fear I can’t execute the ideas I have in my head. I get stuck feeling like I’ve failed myself and my peers by not being good enough.
I never feel confident that I deserve my school or work positions. I find it difficult to submit my work to another person because they’d surely notice all the mistakes I think are in it.
In reality, the people who read my work often reassure me that I’m doing alright, and that it’s never as bad as I think it is. But it doesn’t stop me from going through the same process each time.
I constantly think I should be more capable. It feels like I shouldn’t need to ask for help because I should have the experience to handle things independently by now. It’s an exhausting mental process that I go through every time I start a new assignment or job, despite knowing I’ve made it through to the other side before.
There are a few reasons why I think this started happening: I was a high achiever in a competitive academic environment, and my self-worth depended on me consistently doing the best I could. This overwhelming pressure made it difficult to start assignments because I was too afraid of making mistakes. I felt the need to constantly prove myself to myself and to others.
A skewed understanding of how skilled I was coupled with a habit of being self-deprecating, ultimately hurt my self-image.
I’m trying to be kinder to myself these days, but I find this hurdle particularly difficult to get over. I feel if I don’t write that perfect draft or understand my tasks quickly, I don’t deserve to progress as far as I do.
Incidentally, I spent a while figuring out how to write this article because I doubted whether I had the experience to write it, then realized that was exactly why I had to write it. I can’t present a solution, but I can talk about the steps I’ve taken to feel more in control in the hopes they will resonate with someone else, too.
The first thing was learning the name for this feeling. This wasn’t just random bouts of anxiety, but a pattern I could recognize and find resources for. By naming it, I judged myself less harshly because I knew it was a symptom of a common problem, not just a problem I made up to avoid my work.
From there, I started talking to others about it and found people who felt the same way about their work. This didn’t truly reassure me that I was capable in my lane though. People could have problems with their work, but they were still capable enough that they knew they weren’t a fraud.
By contrast, I didn’t feel good enough to admit I had a problem recognizing my skills. The problem with imposter syndrome is that you set up your pedestal. Everyone’s expectations of themselves seem irrelevant in comparison. Still, knowing that capable peers around me were going through the same thing pushed me to consider how much my poor self-image factored into my skills and talents.
Remember when I said I had a problem with looking back at my work earlier? I found I had to be a lot more comfortable with my mistakes, so I’ve started reading my old assignments and articles. The critic inside of me would pipe up as I noticed every flaw, but I’ve found myself cringing less as I find my strengths as well. It sometimes helped to write down three strengths and one thing I could improve on in my work to have something visual to focus on.
Most importantly, I’ve tried to veer away from my need to be perfect and towards rewiring my brain to recognize when I make progress. This means that I ask for more help when I’m stuck in my head thinking about the perfect way to do something. I feel so vulnerable because it always feels like I’ve done less than what was expected. But once I get the help I need, I feel relieved.
I also try to accept that failure isn’t an end, but a chance to improve. Failure was so scary for me growing up that treating it as a learning opportunity has been difficult. I’m now trying to unlearn the ingrained belief that I’m only as valuable as the work I put out and to embrace that there will always be an opportunity to do better.
Recognizing imposter syndrome as what it is — a pattern — helps me rationalize and think about the times I have succeeded and why. I know I need more reassurance from my loved ones that I am doing okay some days more than others. I’ll even have times now where I move through my work smoothly. I accept that imposter syndrome is a hurdle in my journey of trying to be kinder to myself, and I’ll certainly falter along the way. But maybe understanding why it happens instead of blaming myself will help me improve my inner monologue.