I don’t know anyone who has achieved some degree of success who hasn’t experienced Impostor Syndrome at least once. It’s particularly rampant in graduate students. In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, Impostor Syndrome is the name given to that feeling you experience when you wonder if that big publication or grant or raise was awarded based on merit … or by fooling the people around you into thinking you’re smart.

It’s not real, of course. It’s simply a heightened sense of paranoia that occurs when you’re around other highly skilled people. You can feel completely normal, competent and well-qualified for your job. Except when you’re looking over your shoulder at the next normal, competent and well-qualified person standing in line behind you.

A healthy dose of paranoia keeps you on your toes. It keeps you striving to do the next best thing, to reach higher and achieve more. It’s what makes the Ivory Tower go round. But when you start discounting your success because you “really don’t deserve it” or “it was just luck,” then you know you’ve got Impostor Syndrome.

I think the best solution to combatting Impostor Syndrome is through positive self-talk. After all, there’s humility and then there’s humility. I’m not suggesting that you go around with your chest puffed out—we already have enough of those people, don’t you think? It wouldn’t do us any harm, however, to praise ourselves for our successes more often, to ourselves or with our family and friends. We authors and academics have so many people/organizations/things telling us no that it can feel like a fluke when someone/thing finally says yes.

Stand up, author-friends! Throw back your shoulders and lift up your chin! Take pride in your achievements—you deserve them.

Edited to add: Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Advertisements