Battling Imposter Syndrome

I talk about my own past and present experiences with imposter syndrome and share some ideas on what to do when this feeling pops up in your life.

By Ellie Younger October 5, 2021
Blog post - Battling Imposter Syndrome

Recently, after adding a new class mid-semester, I began feeling like I wasn’t good enough to complete the work asked of me. I stared at my readings for my classes with glassy eyes, focused instead on my thoughts. I worried that I was interpreting my readings wrong, even though I knew they were up for my own interpretation. I began telling myself mid-assignment that I wasn’t smart enough for the classes I was in, or that I wouldn’t produce results that would get me the grades I wanted. In short, I struggled with imposter syndrome.

My first year at University of Michigan, this was something I dealt with a lot as I switched from being what some described as a “big fish in a small pond” at my high school to a “small fish in a big pond” at Michigan. I struggled with feeling like I wasn’t good enough to attend such a prestigious university, and I worried that I wouldn’t be successful in my classes. I was battling with myself as I tried to justify my worth and value.

If you’re battling imposter syndrome too, let me give you some gentle reminders: You belong at this school, and you do not need to prove your worth or value. Imposter syndrome is hard to deal with, but it is important to remember your own intrinsic value. You are good enough to be here, good enough for your classes, and good enough for your friends. You are competent, helpful, and worthy.

Here are some ideas of what to do if imposter syndrome comes up in your life:

  • Take a deep breath (or a couple). Try to ground yourself and remember that you made it to where you are because of your hard work. I do this when the negative thoughts start coming, and it allows me to lower my anxiety a little.
  • Step back from your work for a second. It may seem like homework or studying is the priority, but in reality, it is you. I often try to engage in an act of self-care or self-reflection, something that turns the attention away from my work and onto myself.
  • Reframe the negative thoughts in your mind. Turn “I am not good enough” into “I am good enough” and “I am not smart enough” into “this is challenging right now, but I can figure it out.” This helps me remember what is true and what is just negative self-talk.
  • Talk to someone. Explain what you’re feeling and why you’re struggling. Often, I’ve found that people have experienced something similar, so this conversation leads to me feeling less alone.
  • Recognize when your thinking is imposter syndrome. Don’t let the negative thoughts go unnoticed. I try to catch myself thinking these things so I don’t internalize them without even realizing what I’m doing. Of course, it’s a lot harder to actually do than to say.
  • Remind yourself of the qualities about you that are positive. Maybe even make a list that you can look at later if you need reassurance. Sometimes all I need is a little reminder!
  • Fake it until you make it. This is one thing that helped me get over my imposter syndrome. After taking care of myself, I pushed through the feelings and did the work anyway, telling myself that I was OK. Eventually I realized that I really was.

Many struggle with imposter syndrome and feelings of inadequacy sometimes, but it’s what we do with it that matters. It’s important to support each other and ourselves as we work to remember that we are enough. Whether you experience imposter syndrome frequently or infrequently, I hope you know that you are strong enough to defeat it.

Ellie Younger

Ellie Younger is a sophomore in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and plans to study Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience. Ellie volunteers with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC) and is happy to have found her U-M community in the club Survivor Michigan, for which she is an HR executive. She loves hiking in her home state of Oregon, conversations about social justice, and good poetry.