Feel like an imposter? You’re not alone.

Transitioning from university into a career can be an extremely exciting time. The journey is like a roller coaster. It has had its ups and downs and at last you have submitted your final assignment or finished your last exam. It’s time to take the plunge into something new!

But suddenly you feel that stomach churning anxiety again, perhaps the hard work along the way was a fluke, or a stroke of luck, and perhaps if you hunker back down in your safety harness and keep faking it, other passengers won’t notice?

This sensation has been called imposter syndrome, and its more common than you think.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is when we feel our success is not a true reflection of our abilities. It may feel like you can’t keep up or compete with other people who are at the same level, and you credit your success or positive feedback to luck, timing, or good fortune.

Simply put, it is feeling like a fraud despite having been successful through your own merit.

Why do you get it?

Imposter syndrome goes hand in hand with fears and self-doubt. Fear is your brain’s way of alerting you to potential failure, embarrassment or heartbreak. Self-doubt then comes in when you have a lack of confidence in your ability to cope with these challenges. This process can begin generalised across your efforts and can lead to you feeling fraudulent in all your achievements and like an imposter.

You may also act accordingly to mitigate these fears and self-doubt, be it perfectionism or avoiding the problem. However, at times these doubts can be uncharitable and untrue to your circumstances and past experiences, which can make these doubts louder and harder to consider fairly.

Why are some common reasons?

There are many reasons people still feel self-doubt and imposter syndrome. This can be particularly felt when you’re in a new environment, and you feel ‘different’ from others in your work or study group.

Some of the more common fears that can lead to self-doubt and imposter syndrome include:

  1. Fears of failure or even fear of success.
  2. Fears of how others will react to our efforts, judgements or mistakes.
  3. Fears of how you will cope from past experiences such as setbacks or failure.
  4. Fears of responding to critical questioning of your existing beliefs, thoughts or emotions.

Self-doubt and fear can also be more present depending on a person’s history of attachment styles and personal relationships. People who may have been told in the past that they’re “not good enough” or incapable of something, may struggle with feeling their self-worth.

What can I do?

Learning how to identify, build your inner strength, and cope with thoughts and feelings of self-doubt is a huge part to challenging those imposter syndrome feelings.

It’s also helpful to recognise people’s efforts. Simply by telling someone they’re an outstanding person, student, colleague or friend, and they deserve to feel successful can make a difference to a person’s courage.

As for tips, here are some easy ways you can start to rebuild your self-confidence:

  1. Be kind to yourself: Acknowledge your doubts are formed to prepare you and guard you however they aren’t necessarily concrete truths. These are also standards you wouldn’t likely hold to others close to you without considering their circumstances, so why yourself?
  2. Recognise your achievements: allow yourself to objectively acknowledge your past successes and transitions, be it completing or undertaking new study or work. While they have taken some degree of effort, you’re here today and successful in those endeavours.
  3. Surround yourself with your chosen supports: talk to your peers, mentors, colleagues, you may find they have experienced the same thing as you.
  4. Call out your inner critic: While it’s good to be prepared you can challenge what your inner critic says. Call it out and question it. Is this helpful? Is this true?
  5. Doubt your doubts: Once you can call out your inner critic, build a balanced assessment of yourself from truths you know from others, or your chosen supports and truths you know about yourself to challenge self-doubting and ‘imposter syndrome’ thoughts.
  6. Avoid comparing yourself to others: Focus your efforts into what you can control and where you want your own path to lead.
  7. Seek professional help: If these feelings make it difficult for you to function and enjoy everyday life, then it may help to see a mental health professional. Therapy can help work through your thoughts and personal experiences and provide tools to alleviate feelings of doubt.

Remember, you deserve to feel pride in your accomplishments, and you are courageous to try something new. I wish you all the best with your endeavours and congratulations for completing this year of study!

Last updated:
9 January 2023