In psychology, imposter syndrome is the phenomenon, in which you internalize beliefs that you are inadequate, doubt your achievements, and fear being exposed as a fraud despite evidence that you are skilled and successful.
Imposter syndrome can present in many different forms and through various personality traits. Often times those who demonstrate perfectionism, being a workaholic, always working independently, or being a “natural genius” may struggle with imposter syndrome because of the very habits that contribute to their success.
Many students may find themselves having these sort of feelings throughout their journey in education. Being among some of the brightest and most skilled individuals in the town, state, nation, or even world can be intimidating, and feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and insecurity may start to flow in.
Throughout college at Penn State, I did not struggle with imposter syndrome. Of course, I had my fair share of challenging classes and failed tests, but I was always able to identify how I could have done better, studied more, or skipped the party on Saturday before the Monday exam.
However, medical school changed the game. Within the first month or two, when people would ask me “How is medical school going?,” I simply did not know how to respond. I gave the generic ” It’s tough, but I’m surviving.” response. But what I really wanted to say was “I have no idea how I got here. I do not belong.” I was consistently scoring below average on my exams despite giving it all of my efforts, and that was a foreign concept to me. I felt like a fraud – like a person taking up a seat in a medical school class that was supposed to be given to a more deserving and intelligent individual.
Yes, medical school is difficult, and I knew that coming in. What I did not realize is that along with the academic learning curve, you must also learn how to retain your self-confidence in this environment – an environment in which you are among some of the most intelligent and gifted individuals in the nation. Medical school average is not regular average, and it is a blessing to even make it to this point. But I couldn’t help but to compare myself to my peers and to the average. Giving up was never a thought, however, these feelings of being inadequate take their toll mentally and emotionally.
It took me months to break out of this way of thinking. I had many conversations with advisors and upperclassmen, my family, and myself and vowed to only compare myself to me. Am I progressing over time? How can I change my study strategies? Once I adopted this way of thinking and completely revamped my studying, I saw significant improvement. This gave me the boost that I needed and reinforced that with a little resilience, no hurdle is too high.
Imposter syndrome can drain you if you let it. Comparing yourself to others is self-sabotaging and destructive. Compare you to you. Run your race, and keep your eyes ahead on your lane.
Always remember… You are qualified. You are deserving. You are worthy.