Imposter Syndrome: Noble Humility or Shameful Insecurity?

Read this article in the Indiana Daily Student here….

From the first day of an introductory course in philosophy, psychology, or any field, we are inundated by the daunting knowledge and opportunities of the world. You realize that there’s so much to explore and learn. The things you know about the world might be wrong, and the things that you’re proud of might seem trivial, irrelevant, or unimportant in the face of the amazing things that others have done. Others might tell you that you’re intelligent, hardworking, or diligent, but you feel as though you’re not what everyone thinks you are. To make matters worse, socioeconomic and biological factors of the world might cause us to lose sight of what we truly have control over. We might think that we are only doing well because we were born to the right family, the top school, or the best genes. Students of color might feel as though they are recipients of affirmative action. Women might feel as though society should not expect them to believe they are intelligent. It doesn’t matter if you’re the prince or the pauper, the smartest or the strongest, the highest or the lowest. You wonder, “How did I get here?”

Fake It Till You Make it

We may manifest our negative feelings in healthier ways. This might come about through modesty. But, too often, we have tendencies to deny any positive quality others say of ourselves. We may end up disliking moments in which we must show off or speak about our own accomplishments. This could be during communication such as presentations, interviews, meetings, or even personal ways such as completing coursework. During these times when we must actualize what we have done, you may pretend to be more skilled than you believe you are, or “fake it till you make it.” This will help you understand how to feel good about your accomplishments, since how you feel about yourself is only a feeling that should not reflect anything negative that you have done. And, while it is definitely noble to behave modest in our successes (be them intellectual or otherwise), it certainly doesn’t mean that we should ignore any positive trait we may have.

As for factors that are truly outside our control (such as how we were born, what environment we grew up in), it is possible to take pride in what you have achieved while remaining grateful in one way or another. But, more importantly, it’s irrelevant to worry about whether or not factors outside your control have shaped your success. For the African American worrying that he/she might have had extra support in the college admissions process on account of his/her skin color or for the endowed wealthy student realizing that his/her family had access to the best resources, those are things that should not affect how you view yourself. But the position you are on the path doesn’t determine how successful you are. What you give to the world does. Maybe it’s not about the cards that are given to you, but the way you play them. That’s who you are who you are. You can make something meaningful of your life while simultaneously appreciating what others have given to you. And, at the end of the day, we don’t really know how lucky we could have ever been. So we should always remain grateful. That’s the type of modesty and appreciation that should promote humanism and virtues in the sciences (and the rest of academia).

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