Feeling like an impostor

Over the last couple weeks we’ve been learning about impostor syndrome to get a better understanding of what impact it may play in women’s higher education trajectory from cultural background to employment. To do this we first needed to get a better understanding how we were going to identify when someone may have experienced these feelings. Below are three concept models that we’ve developed based on our interviews with subject matter experts, stakeholders, and participants to help us describe and identify feelings associated with impostor syndrome.

Figure 1: What You Know vs. What Everyone Else Knows
Figure 1: What You Know vs. What Everyone Else Knows

As shown in Figure 1, feelings of self doubt associated with impostor syndrome may sometimes stem from the idea that everyone around you knows more than you, when in reality you all know the same amount of information.

Figure 2: How much of your success is due to hard work vs. luck?
Figure 2: How much of your success is due to hard work vs. luck?

Another way to spot feelings of impostor syndrome when they may not be apparent is when someone attributes most of their success to luck despite the large amounts of hard work that went in to reaching that goal, as shown above in Figure 2.

Figure 3: Volume of Self Doubt
Figure 3: Volume of Self Doubt

While many people experience a certain degree of self doubt on a daily basis we are learning that there are certain situations and factors that may increase or decrease the volume of those feelings. These are important because they may help indicate times when these feelings get so loud that they could have a higher potential to influence someone’s behavior or decision making. For example, Figure 3 shows that a common time for these feelings to manifest is during times of change or when someone is experiencing something new. Dealing with unknowns can be scary and if someone has no prior experience, as a foundation to build from, it can be easy to make assumptions about other’s experience and knowledge compared to their own. We’ve also learned that people who are juggling and switching between multiple, and sometimes conflicting, roles may have increased feelings of self doubt and uncertainty. Conversely, we are finding that having mentors, support networks, and building knowledge and experience can be tools to decrease and overcome these feelings.