What is Imposter Syndrome?

I first heard of the phrase “Imposter Syndrome” in the fall of my junior year. I was sitting in the office of Brynn Wilkins, my undergraduate computer science coordinator, feeling extremely stupid and incompetent. I fell into the trap that many other college students have also fallen into, convinced that I was not intelligent and unworthy to be in the same class as my peers.

I always had brief moments where I felt this way, but this time was different. I really had gotten in my head. I came into Brynn’s office, explaining to my thoughts and feelings at the moment. And that’s when Brynn and Dani Vander Horst, my other undergraduate coordinator, said, “Ruki, you have Imposter Syndrome.”

Now, what is Imposter Syndrome? It sounds like a deadly illness. It is best described as, “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments … Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon … incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.” [Note: if you also experienced chills after reading that description, you may also have Imposter Syndrome.]

Honestly, it was eerie the extent I could relate to that description. Looking more into Imposter Syndrome, I found that several well-known, acclaimed individuals also experienced such, including Michelle Obama, Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and Maya Angelou.

Though it is not definitive whether Imposter Syndrome disproportionately affects women, I was shocked to find out several of my female colleagues had similar feelings.

Oddly, this made me feel better, because I didn’t feel alone in this struggle. There was no way one of the smartest students I have ever met could think they were also stupid. Imposter Syndrome had to be real. And this was the first step I had to make in overcoming imposter syndrome: acknowledging that this was a united struggle.

The second, and probably most important step, I had to make was to stop comparing myself. You will never be successful and reach your goals if you constantly put yourself down and beat yourself up. People follow their passion, and that’s why they’re incredibly successful. Imagine if Van Gogh decided to pursue physics instead of art (though he could have also been a physics mastermind for all we know)? My point is that I found myself not only comparing myself to my colleagues, but people from different majors and entirely different backgrounds.

Thirdly, you need to build up self-confidence and self-love. It doesn’t matter what other people think, because at the end of the day, if you know you have those skills, nothing else matters. I personally found writing to be incredibly cathartic in this sense, where I could voice my insecurities and humble-brag about myself, to myself, without anyone reading what I wrote.

Also keep in mind that the Gwen M. Greene Center for Career Education and Connections helps students prepare for life after college by providing mock interviews, resume help, and other resources to make you career ready. This is a great facility to help combat Imposter Syndrome and build confidence.

Overcoming imposter syndrome is a process, and it can also be temporarily overcome. I still find myself occasionally falling into a trap of self-doubt. The trick to all of it is to be confident, love yourself, and know your self worth.

About the author

Ruki PV

Hello! My name is Ruki and I am a current junior at the UofR. I am majoring in Computer Science, Anthropology, and Film/Media Studies. On-campus, I am involved in a variety of activities, including Women in Computing, Residential Life, and TOOP. I am also involved in the Rochester Prison Project and an avid advocate for social justice. Meliora!

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