Overcoming Imposter Syndrome at University

‘Imposter Syndrome’ is defined by Warwick’s Wellbeing Service as “a psychological phenomenon in which people doubt their accomplishments…and fear being exposed as a ‘fraud’, despite evident success or external proof of competence”. These fears are felt by countless students across the globe, but can feel incredibly isolating. This post provides three practical tips to beat those doubts.

Personally, I have always experienced these feelings of worry surrounding my achievements. It can be tricky to learn and socialise as normal if you are convinced that every previous success was merely a result of luck (and that someday your luck will run out). These feelings were suddenly amplified when I arrived at university. Being surrounded by students that all seemed unbelievably intelligent only made things worse.

However – there is hope! It took some work, and it wasn’t a quick process, but I’ve collected three tips that helped me combat my Imposter Syndrome and will hopefully help you too. It can be difficult to find concrete and practical advice online that isn’t just “Believe in yourself!”, but these tips are accessible and can be adapted to suit your preferences. Most of them you can even do right now, so give them a go!

Tip #1: Connect with Others Imposter Syndrome can happen to anyone, and feels incredibly isolating. It’s easy to believe you are the only person in the world who has these doubts and fears, but I can absolutely assure you that you are not alone. After starting university, I was overwhelmed by my classmates who all seemed miles more intelligent than me. I spent most of my seminars giving rambling answers that felt silly, while my clever peers gave short, decisive answers. After a while of feeling terrified, I plucked up the courage to tell a classmate how impressed I was by her intelligent and concise answers. She was shocked, having felt like she never had much to contribute, and had instead been impressed by the length of my long-winded answers. Connecting with others to explain these feelings of doubt is an incredibly difficult thing to do, but it can be equally rewarding. Reaching out to closer family or friends can also create a more consistent support system. Often, they may have experience with factors that contribute to your Imposter Syndrome, such as gender, race, class, or educational background. Sharing your experiences is a very validating thing to do, and can help reassure you that others encounter the same feelings.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome at University

Tip #2: Validate Yourself!

It seems like cheesy advice, but it really is so important to recognise that your feelings, although very real, are only feelings. It can be easy to accept your doubtful thoughts as concrete facts – when they really aren’t! To combat this negativity, I like to use affirmations or mantras. Here are a few of mine:

“I deserve to be where I am.”

“I have worked hard to achieve my successes.”

“I am all the positive things people say about me and more.”

“I am worthy of good things happening to me.”

“I deserve celebration.”

Although it might feel a little bizarre, I like having phrases to repeat and reassure myself when I feel my anxieties creeping in. Writing these down several times on a piece of paper can be a very grounding exercise, and helps to solidify these statements as fact.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome at University

Tip 3: Make a Success Sheet

This one takes a little time to accumulate, but is incredibly useful in moments when you lack confidence. Begin a ‘Success Sheet’ (Triumph Table? Glory Google Doc?) on whichever word processor suits you best. Create a no-pressure compilation of your past successes – big or small! These can range from a brilliant academic result, to a new job, to a compliment a stranger gave you on the bus. I like to date mine, record where this success came from, and write a short description. Then you can return to this Success Sheet to remind yourself of what you have previously achieved, if feelings of insecurity become overwhelming. This is a great reminder of your undeniable accomplishments, and proves that you have previously overcome Imposter Syndrome, and can do it again! (This tip is also coincidentally useful for job applications – it’s great to have a list of your achievements to discuss.)

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome at University

These three tips aren’t instant fixes, but make a huge difference if applied over time.

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