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Horn Entrepreneurship

Handing Over The Horn Series: Feeling Like The Imposter

Imposter Syndrome Blog GraphicHave you ever noticed how the greatest leaders can't lead others? An Oscar winning actress can't act. A Grammy winning singer can't hold a tune. And a New York best selling author can't write a proper story. Even how innovators can’t innovate. The answer is no, you haven't noticed this at first glance. People like that are talented, decorated, high status individuals who are enchanting through the eyes of others. But unfortunately, not to themselves. Even the best of the best may feel inadequate. No matter the great things someone achieves, there is a lingering voice that makes you feel like all those accomplishments don't matter because you aren’t actually deserving. 

“I feel like an imposter. Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved.” - Emma Watson.

Natalie Portman doubts her worthiness even after graduating from Harvard, John Steinbeck claims he's not a real writer, Tina Fey teeters on the line of having a big ego and feeling like fraud, and even Maya Angelou felt like the rug was going to be pulled out from under her even after 11 successful books. 

What Is This Situation?

This dark shadowy beast of a feeling is called imposter syndrome, a case of being a bit “too” humble. This is simply when you're anxious and not accepting internal success despite your external and objective successful feats. Main causes of this include certain family dynamics and pressures, cultural expectations, individual personality traits such as perfectionism, and comparison to others. Usually 18-24 year olds, first generation students, members of minority groups, and entrepreneurs are more susceptible to feeling like an imposter in their space. 

This feeling can affect anyone and everyone, no matter the demographic, including people such as new mothers, an underprivileged student at an affluent school, “personality” hires, or a new graduate. As students in college, this transitional and discovery stage of life can be tricky and leave you feeling like you don't belong or measure up to your peers. This is a feeling that is hard to shake and can grow depending on the situation but there are ways to recognize, understand, and correct this feeling. Horn seeks to address the common issue of imposter syndrome by giving a voice to students dealing with things like this for others to resonate with.

Do I Deserve This?

Let’s picture this, you are 18 years old and as a senior your graduation is coming up soon. You've been receiving congratulations from family and friends for days leading up to graduation. Over time you start to feel uncomfortable with the constant praise because you keep thinking about how you almost failed your math classes 2 years in a row, missed many days of school and got so behind in our work, never made the varsity team no matter how hard you tried, and always winged it when it came to tests and essays. You can't understand why someone would be proud of you after all the mistakes you made to get to the stage. “Did I really earn this diploma like everyone else?” “Is a simple high school graduation such a big accomplishment?”. One anonymous student knows that feeling of seeing the process behind the scenes. 

“I am aware of how I act and how I behave when it comes to certain things, so I wonder how I achieved my previous success. People only see the final result, they don’t see the 10-20 small to medium steps it took to achieve that final result.”

You feel like an imposter. The catch is that the mistakes you make along the way to your goal don't taint your victory at all. In some ways it can make that victory so much more impressive. 

You Are Feeling Like An Imposter Too?

College is a place to branch out, learn, and try new things. When you’re put in new and somewhat uncomfortable situations you can start to feel like a fraud or an outsider. Junior Entrepreneurship major Gianni Dollard is a sharp and ambitious student dabbling in professional and creative endeavors, but that doesn't make her invincible to feeling out of place sometimes. Upon coming to college, Gianni chose to take an ambitious leap by branching into new clubs and communities that she was genuinely interested in rather than what felt safe. 

“In high school it seemed like everyone was on similar paths, so standing out wasn’t really in my mind. So in college I started joining spaces that interested me (not just because my friends were in it) such as mentoring, internships, and extracurricular clubs. I first experienced this feeling during mentoring. I signed up because I developed some leadership skills and also  went through some stuff that I felt like I can help others with. But when I had to talk about myself I felt like people wouldn’t want me to be their mentor based on how more qualified others around me seemed.”

For Gianni, feeling like an imposter arose when she found herself trying to measure up with others on who and whom isn't qualified. Similarly, Alana Hill, a junior Environmental Studies major with a focus on advocacy, eco-entrepreneurship and geographical information systems, felt like an imposter when it came to being the youngest member of a group project composed of members of all education levels. 

“Being the youngest, I knew that some people in the group had low expectations for me. Instead of letting that get to me, I convinced myself that I was smarter and more well-spoken than they expected of me.” said Alana. 

How Do I Deal With This?

With understanding what imposter syndrome is and how it affects our own students, learning how to deal with it is crucial. There are lots of resources to help such as online articles and also peer advice. Alana believes that imposter syndrome has a close correlation with the pygmalion effect. So when a professor, advisor, or someone she looks up to has a presumption of low expectations it is harder for her to work well and imposter syndrome sets in. 

“However, I believe that practicing positive affirmations, working on a strong mindset, and addressing how those low expectations can be changed into high expectations helps.”

Other advice includes learning how to clearly talk about your success, like a form of exposure therapy. Just jump right into it. Also, celebrate your success on your own. Sharing your success with others is usually when the shyness comes about, but if you can be proud of yourself  in private, that's a start. And lastly, you can focus on the end result. You got that award or that job for a reason. If you didn't deserve it, why would you have it? The end result shows that whatever happened during the journey matters. 

Yes, feeling insecure and like an imposter is a normal feeling, but at the end of the day it’s not defining of your intelligence, likability, and overall worthiness. This feeling will come and go for a while in life but you have the choice to rise above it. You have the ability to be your number one supporter, you just have to embrace it. 

About Horn Entrepreneurship

Horn Entrepreneurship serves as the creative engine for entrepreneurship education and advancement at the University of Delaware. Currently ranked among the best entrepreneurship programs in the US, Horn Entrepreneurship was built and is actively supported by successful entrepreneurs, empowering aspiring innovators as they pursue new ideas for a better world.

Topics: entrepreneurship, resources, students, innovation