Imposter Syndrome

I deal with some pretty bad anxiety about rejection. This might go hand-in-hand with being a perfectionist. I say that because I sometimes won’t do something if I’m afraid of the outcome (if I don’t think I’ll do well or if I don’t think I haven’t done something well enough). This has been a major obstacle for me as I work towards a PhD. While I’m getting better at dealing with it, it has impacted my personal and academic paths in the past. I almost didn’t apply to get a PhD because I was so afraid I wasn’t going to be “smart” enough or do “well” enough. I was scared someone would “find out” that I was a fraud and really wasn’t intelligent enough for a PhD. I was so afraid that I decided to get a second master’s degree instead of applying to doctoral programs. It wasn’t until I worked through some of my “imposter syndrome” (there’s a good NY Times article on this issue) that I felt confident enough to pursue a PhD. Imposter Syndrome is a real and serious issue that many people, women in particular, deal with. Karen Kaplan, in an article in the journal, Nature, says, ” It [imposter syndrome] may emotionally choke its sufferers to the point at which it derails their career”.


But there are still times that this anxiety rears it’s ugly head. In the past month I have needed to contact certain professors to request that they serve on my dissertation committee. I kept putting it off, day after day, for fear that they would say no to my request. Finally, today I said “Enough is ENOUGH, dammit!” I put together a few well-written and individually tailored emails and sent them to some Profs that I would love to have on my committee. I’m not even thinking about their response. If they say no because they’re too busy, well then so what? I’ll just ask someone else. But it needed to be done and I feel great that I finally did it!

While sending out a few emails may not seem like a big deal to most people, checking these types of things off my to-do list is huge for me. I’ve had things on my list that need to get done but don’t because of my anxiety. My therapist (yes, I see a therapist…and I would recommend most PhD students, or most anyone, have one just to hash things out) says I should celebrate getting little things done. For instance, I finally called the dentist to make an appointment. She said I should go to Whole Foods (something I really like to do) to celebrate. At first I was skeptical. Am I supposed to celebrate and reward myself for every damn thing that needs to get done? These are things I should just do as an adult. But according to her, I need to reward myself. So for today, here’s a gold star for me 🙂

Now I just need to attack the hundred other things on my to-do list. Like write my dissertation 😉

Is there anything that you get anxious about doing? How do you overcome your anxiety? 

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3 Responses to Imposter Syndrome

  1. I get anxious over making big decisions… I definitely had much worse anxiety during grad school… and currently my wedding (18 days away) is a major source of anxiety!

  2. Pingback: Case of the Mondays…but not for long! | Let's Go on a Living Spree

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