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What is an effective way to deal with imposter syndrome?

I am a high school senior with good grades and I will be my school's valedictorian in May. Regardless, I feel undeserving of all that I have accomplished. I have researched imposter syndrome and I have found that imposter syndrome is common among doctors and medical school students. How do I overcome this feeling of unworthiness? #medical-school #college

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Kim’s Answer


First and foremost, congratulations!

I'm going to guess that much of school came easy to you, whereas you've seen lots of others around you having to struggle. Your success is in part due to that factor, but, surely there were times you had to study? Surely you have worked with other students in groups and learned from each other? Surely part of it is due to the efforts of your teachers? And your parents? Recognize the role that all the others played in your success, and accept the recognition with both pride and humility.

Throughout your schooling and career, you will be graded and evaluated. Is it fair? No. absolutely not. Someone somewhere decided on a rating scale, and a list of factors that are deemed worthy of evaluating. I really like this quote, because, it speaks volumes: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein is often credited with this wonderful quote, but it may actually have come from a variety of different sources, which is quite fitting given its subject matter.

Not to take anything away from your accomplishment, but, there are lots of smart people all around you who don't do well on written tests, or never mastered the art of writing an essay. Some of these go into trades, such as electricians. Some can troubleshoot a nonworking engine. But, you are the one who best satisfied all the criteria to become valedictorian, regardless how appropriate these criteria really are. So, be humble. Give credit where credit is due. Bask in the limelight. Smile and be gracious. Do it for you. Do it for your family. Do it for your teachers.

As you transition to college, and then to the working world, you will see the values of teams. I enjoyed working with others who had diverse backgrounds, because, together, there was NO problem we couldn't handle. We all contribute to the success of the team. A whole wide world awaits you!

Good luck!

Thank you so much for the quick response! It almost brought tears to my eyes. I am going to make it a point to show more appreciation where it is warranted, including appreciating myself. Thank you! Karlyn E.

well, yes, crying comes too easy sometimes, but, we usually feel better afterwards! Where are you going to college, and what's your major? Kim Igleheart

I am going to Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina, and I'm majoring in biology. I've always felt called to science and medicine. Karlyn E.

It's great to have a calling and direction in life! Congrats! Feel free to come back here and help us answer questions - it only takes a few minutes a day! It's nice to get younger people helping out! Kim Igleheart

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Sanober’s Answer

Hi Karlyn,

First off, I want to congratulate you on your success-- It's important to celebrate yourself and all you have accomplished thus far. Your feelings are not uncommon, and the feeling of unworthiness you have is something you don't have to endure alone.

Mindfulness is important when it comes to these thoughts you may have-- acknowledging that you feel inadequate for the achievements and give yourself a moment to recognize this is just a feeling and has no truth or validity in taking away that accomplishment.

Talking to others, such as friends, teachers, parents, or siblings about what you feel can really open up a space of conversation where you may be surprised to find others are experiencing the exact same thing. By speaking it out loud, you are able to release it from inside of you and that can feel like a weight has been lifted.

I also recommend watching this ted talk on imposter syndrome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQUxL4Jm1Lo&feature=emb_title

I hope this helps :)


I loved the TED Talk video. I am especially feeling the self-made roadblocks as I apply for scholarships and jobs, but simply being aware of my feelings seems to have helped a lot. Thank you for your quick response! Karlyn E.

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Vineeth’s Answer

The only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor.

* Break the silence. Shame keeps a lot of people from “fessing up” about their fraudulent feelings. Knowing there’s a name for these feelings and that you are not alone can be tremendously freeing.
* Separate feelings from fact. There are times you’ll feel stupid. It happens to everyone from time to time. Realize that just because you may feel stupid, doesn’t mean you are.
* Recognize when you should feel fraudulent. A sense of belonging fosters confidence. If you’re the only or one of a few people in a meeting, classroom, field, or workplace who look or sound like you or are much older or younger, then it’s only natural you’d sometimes feel like you don’t totally fit in. Plus if you’re the first woman, people of color, or person with a disability to achieve something in your world, e.g. first VP, astronaut, judge, supervisor, firefighter, honoree, etc. there’s that added pressure to represent your entire group. Instead of taking your self-doubt as a sign of your ineptness, recognize that it might be a normal response to being on the receiving end of social stereotypes about competence and intelligence.
* Accentuate the positive. The good news is being a perfectionist means you care deeply about the quality of your work. The key is to continue to strive for excellence when it matters most, but don’t persevere over routine tasks and forgive yourself when the inevitable mistake happens.
* Develop a healthy response to failure and mistake making. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for falling short, do what players on the losing sports team do and glean the learning value from the loss and move on reminding yourself, “I’ll get ’em next time.”
* Right the rules. If you’ve been operating under misguided rules like, “I should always know the answer,” or “Never ask for help” start asserting your rights. Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong, have an off-day, or ask for assistance.
* Develop a new script. Become consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head when you’re in a situation that triggers your Impostor feelings. This is your internal script. Then instead of thinking, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” tell yourself “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.” Instead of looking around the room and thinking, “Oh my God everyone here is brilliant…. and I’m not” go with “Wow, everyone here is brilliant – I’m really going to learn a lot!”
* Visualize success. Do what professional athletes do. Spend time beforehand picturing yourself making a successful presentation or calmly posing your question in class. It sure beats picturing impending disaster and will help with performance-related stress.
Reward yourself. Break the cycle of continually seeking °© and then dismissing °© validation outside of yourself by learning to pat yourself on the back.
* Fake it ‘til you make it. Now and then we all have to fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of considering “winging it” as proof of your ineptness, learn to do what many high achievers do and view it as a skill. The point of the worn-out phrase, fake it til you make it, still stands: Don’t wait until you feel confident to start putting yourself out there. Courage comes from taking risks. Change your behavior first and allow your confidence to build.

Wow. Thank you for all the detail in your response. I hadn't really realized the way that social stereotypes might feed into my insecurities. I have also made it a point to ask more questions, just like you said. Very helpful! Karlyn E.

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Elizabeth’s Answer

Hi Karlyn!

Like others have said, firstly, congratulations!

The way I've combated imposter syndrome is to focus on the results of my work. They don't happen by accident– just like you didn't become valedictorian by accident. It's tough to curate faith in yourself, but that's what you must do. Hard work is really admirable and will get you really far, and it's something you can grow confidence in: your ability to do hard work. When you're feeling like an imposter, try to reframe the thinking into: "I know I have room to grow but I'm working my hardest". Because you'll *always* have room to grow, but remind yourself of the hard work you're doing. Try to turn the imposter feeling into motivation.

Something else that helps me is remembering that even when I'm surrounded by brilliant people, those people have their own struggles and had their own path to success. Try to remind yourself that even if everyone around you seems to 'have it together' better than you do, they're human too! Humanizing those around us can help us be kinder to ourselves.

Embrace hard work and determination, and remember we're all doing our best.

I hope that helps!

It certainly does. Thank you! Karlyn E.

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Simeon’s Answer

Build relationships with people who are in your position and probe about how they feel about their accomplishments once there is a degree of trust between ya'll. One of the most important things to find when you're successful are friendships and connections. When you're successful, people will put you on a pedestal and be afraid of connecting with you for fear of looking bad in comparison. It's important to prevent that isolation and be proactive about connecting with others. Everyone always thinks they are the only one who struggles the way they do, but reaching out to others helps ground us in the reality that we are all trying to figure things out.

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Yasemin’s Answer

Hi Karlyn ! Wow, congratulations that is amazing! You should be proud of yourself; but I know the feeling when you accomplish something important, you could still feel like you haven't done enough! As a psychology major and a premed student I definitely did study imposter syndrome; this feeling does pass for medical students as they are more immersed in their classwork. I think in a new setting this is definitely possible and sometimes students can feel that they are not as good as other medical students and the question of " Do I belong here?"
But remember you do! No matter what you, you accomplished your goals and sometimes one needs time to feel more comfortable in them! Medical students need to remember that as well; no matter who graduated from where or who got the higher test score it doesn't matter because in the end everyone is in the same school and everyone is a classmate working to become a physician!

I hope this helps!
Good job once more, I wish you best!

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David’s Answer

Hi Karlyn!

To start off, everyone experiences imposter syndrome. Everyone has that shadow doubt saying "I don't deserve to be here." The key is to not let it effect your behavior - don't let it hold you down or hold you back. Self talk, essentially hyping yourself up, can help with this. Motivate yourself to step up and speak up, once you do you will begin to gain the confidence and realize YOU DO BELONG HERE. You put in the hard work and as long as you continue to put in that effort, nothing can stand in your way. The more you fear and shy away from speaking up, the more you will feel like an imposter and not good enough. Don't be afraid to ask questions, you will never learn without answers to your questions! And remember, someone is always thinking of the same question you are - be the one with the strength to ask!

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Felipe’s Answer

Hi Karlyn,

First off, congratulations on your achievements. Believe it or not, you are well deserved.

In one way or another, most of us deal with the impostor syndrome at some point(s) in our life. We tend to think everyone else knows more than we do in general, but we all master different areas of knowledge and are constantly evolving in reality.

To overcome this feeling, acknowledge you are not alone, and a lot of the people you talk to are feeling the same. In that way, you will stop feeling "unworthiness." Second, feel gratitude for your accomplishments and don't fight with the syndrome but instead keep going. Later you will realize you were doing great, and you were too hard on yourself. Keep moving, be grateful, see things from a different perspective. There is a big chance many people you talk to have higher respect and admiration for you than what you think.