I spent the majority of my first 22 years of life at school. All this work and time and pressure, with the goal being to get a job after all those years of preparation. When it came to my senior year of college, the task of getting a full-time job for after graduation was all consuming. Interviewing was a process in its own, but moral of the story is – all I wanted was a job. It’s the goal a lot of us are trying to achieve at that point in our life, and when it happens, everyone will ask “aren’t you so relieved?!” I accepted my first real job a month ago, and it is a great job! I was showered with congratulations and questions about how I was going to celebrate. So, why have I yet to feel that rush of relief I was expecting? Why is all I feel a sense of not being worthy of this great opportunity I just accepted?
Studying statistics at the University of Illinois, imposter syndrome is something I experienced first-hand. As defined by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey from Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome is “doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud,” and something I know many of us relate to from time to time. Last week I was proctoring an upper level statistics test in a class I had taken before, and I counted that there were 2 people of my race and gender out of the 73 students taking the test. Being part of that 2.7% in my classes led me to feel underqualified and extremely out of place. When group projects came along, I felt like my peers were burdened to have me as a partner and that they wished they got someone “smarter” or “better at coding” or “more experienced.” When it came time to get a job, the stress and work I put in made me think that once I got an offer, I would feel that I really earned and deserved it, which I never felt in my classes. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Hours, days, and eventually a month passed after accepting my job, still I don’t feel worthy of the position I was offered. I am anxious of what they will expect from me and that I will not be able to deliver, I am scared the people that hire me will think they made a mistake. These feelings of self-doubt and apprehension are unfortunately all too common, especially when it comes to women in the work place. To see just how far these feelings spread, I interviewed a few of my friends across different colleges and industries to see how they felt during times of accepting internships and jobs.
Caroline (Northwestern University, Statistics):
Caroline received her full time offer after completing her summer internship with the company. While searching for an internship, she experienced the overwhelming stress and anxiety that a lot of us do. She “was really, really proud” when she got her internship, but when she got her return offer she mentions she was not sure what to do, and wondered if it was good enough when it came to her long-term goals.
Jane (Miami University, Marketing):
Jane was similar to me in the sense that she was not sure what she wanted to do, and being surrounded by friends who seem to only talk about jobs, got very anxious. Jane found her job through a girl in her sorority, and began the very rigorous interview process at this company. She mentions she got invited to an interview in Chicago, but she says “this was a very selective process and I’m not sure how they chose me because I knew lots of other people applying.”
Charlotte (Villanova University, Nursing):
Charlotte is in a rare and fortunate position of knowing exactly what she wants to do with her life, something I personally am hoping to figure out! She worked hard to get a summer internship at her dream hospital and landed a return offer afterwards. She mentions that she did not use any connections to get this job, and is proud of herself for it.
While everyone has different feeling throughout the process, it seems like a common trend to either doubt yourself or feel the need to prove yourself to others. Caroline got a great job and still wondered if it was “good enough.” Jane made it through a tough interview process and wondered “why they chose her.” Charlotte got her dream job and wants people to know “no one helped her.”
All feelings are valid and normal, but that doesn’t mean they’re ideal. It is normal for women to doubt themselves and feel they don’t deserve their success, but that does not mean we should! I have barely begun my higher education or professional career and am already experiencing these feelings of insecurity and lack of self-worth. I believe it is those negative feelings keeping me from feeling that rush of relief I expected when getting my job.
Like any problem in life, there are many “solutions” to imposter syndrome. The one I found made the most sense to me is learning to separate feelings from fact. An example mentioned in the linked article is you may do something that makes you feel stupid. Everyone feels stupid from time to time, that does not mean you are stupid. I see this helping me in reminding myself of the facts of my success, “I got into the statistics program. I am graduating early. I got a great job that I worked for.” The undeniable feelings of imposter syndrome are something most women deal with at some point in their life, and I (along with many of my friends) have been dealing with lately during the job-search process. While men deal with this as well, women are much more susceptible to feelings of insecurity, especially in the workplace and certain school subjects. So, it is important to own your success and recognize it as fact, because it is!