Conversations about experiencing imposter syndrome tend to have a general pattern. They typically wind down to unprompted self-reflections brought on by comparing ourselves to others. Even if it’s as innocent as, “I wish I had what they have,” imposter syndrome makes us rethink our lives in ways that we previously didn’t pay much mind to. With the first semester returning in full gear, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with new classes, professors, and peers. It’s even easier to start hyperfixating on what everyone else is doing. These thoughts, which we’d all gladly like to ignore, tend to lead us down the rabbit hole of second-guessing ourselves.
Pauline Rose and Suzanne Imes coined the term “imposter syndrome” in their 1978 study of high-achieving women who accredited their success not to their capabilities, but to luck or error. The commonality between these women reflected a sense of fraudulence and shame surrounding their success. After countless cross-references in other media, imposter syndrome became recognized as a chronic experience, stemming from the sense of inaccurate self-perceptions of phoniness and self-doubt. What these women were experiencing in the 70s is no different from what we experience today. Imposter syndrome has no trajectory other than ourselves.
“Our majors tend to dictate our lives and paint an unrealistic picture of what we should be and how we should act.”
So, what’s the difference between imposter syndrome and plain old envy? Well, while envy is rooted in wanting what someone else has, imposter syndrome roots itself in a lack of self-confidence. Imposter syndrome has us feeling like the odd man out and sticking out like a sore thumb in a crowd full of perfectionists. In a world obsessed with labels and numbers, it’s easy for our self-esteem to take a toll. Especially as a student, where our majors tend to dictate our lives and paint an unrealistic picture of what we should be and how we should act.
Students across all programs can relate to feeling overwhelmed with the standards that come with university life. The pressure to blend in starts weighing on us more and more. Hanna Kachmar’s experience as a fourth-year nursing student sheds light on the stress that she, and other nursing students, are put under during their clinicals. Even as a fourth year student, Kachmar is still under pressure to meet the high expectations that come with working in health care. Her first run-in with imposter syndrome acknowledges the reality of first-year nursing students. “It really just takes time, but at the beginning, it was very shocking,” she says.
“I remember being so dissociated from what was going on.”
Hanna Kachmar, fourth-year nursing student.
Constantly thinking, “I don’t know what I’m doing, I shouldn’t be here,” is a common pattern during first-year clinical practice. Transitioning from lectures to hospital rooms is a beast of its own, but being responsible for patients and their treatment is a whole other story. Looking back at her first clinical three years ago, Kachmar recognizes imposter syndrome in nursing as a harsh but true reality: “I remember being so dissociated from what was going on.” While the intensity of her first clinical made for a memorable impression, Kachmar assures that the exposure students get within hospitals is a crucial time for their careers in regards to what to prepare for. “Like now, it’s just second nature, I don’t feel that at all,” says Kachmar. These days, Kachmar stresses that while students may not feel like they belong in the beginning, the challenge to keep going will make you better in the end.
In her article “Imposter Syndrome” in the AMA Journal of Ethics, Rebecca Kimyon views imposter syndrome more light-heartedly. She moves away from the topic of discomfort and thinking we don’t “measure up” to the standards we’ve set for ourselves and instead discusses imposter syndrome from a “serious psychological point of view.” Rather than motivating ourselves at the expense of our confidence, Kimyon encourages us to “reflect on imposter syndrome as a common human experience, and perhaps breathe a sigh of relief that we’re not alone.”
“We wouldn’t be questioning ourselves today if we hadn’t gotten here in the first place.”
We wouldn’t be questioning ourselves today if we hadn’t gotten here in the first place. Instead of revelling in our self-doubt, let’s shake it up and focus on the bigger picture. The relationship between humility and impostorism is synonymous. Both affect our confidence and perception of personal value. Instead of viewing humility as something vulnerable that we need to protect, we should start seeing it as a pushable boundary. The same goes for impostorism. Priding ourselves in getting to where we are in the first place is something so easily overlooked. Take some time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished, not what you could have done better and recognize that, like the women in Rose and Ime’s study, you’ve earned it.
Graphic by Tristin Tanton.