I was sitting in Howling Wolf Taqueria, a hip, swanky Mexican restaurant in Salem, Massachusetts last spring break when my cousin said two words: “Impostor Syndrome.”
We were discussing stress surrounding internship and job applications over lunch (light conversation, you know). My friend and I told my cousin and hers, who are actual real-life adults, that we were scared of not receiving replies because we aren’t good enough, not nearly qualified enough.
Considering Salem, apart from its witchy history, is a quintessential college town, conversation about professional uncertainty was strangely fitting.
My cousin declared that we were suffering from an affliction called Impostor Syndrome. I had never heard this term before, but I immediately knew its meaning.
Urban Dictionary defines Impostor Syndrome as:
When someone who believes their own accomplishments were simply because of luck, tricking others into thinking they are intelligent, or timing. When in reality they did them on their own. It’s most seen among people who are in higher education, or high achieving jobs.
This summer, I interned for a nonprofit organization. The hiring process was fairly long. As customary, I submitted an application, a cover letter, and my resume. Weeks later, I received an email informing me that I was one of several candidates chosen for a phone interview. Then, I was interviewed IRL. Following a two-day orientation, I became a full-time communications intern for a statewide nonprofit.
After being hired, I was immediately excited, elated, and proud.
These positive feelings were short-lived, however. I quickly began to feel unprepared, unqualified, and was unwaveringly convinced that I made myself look too good during the interview process.
Of course, this is complete bullshit. If my supervisor didn’t think I was qualified for the position, she wouldn’t have hired me. I’m conscious of these truths, but regardless have trouble silencing that nagging voice in my head telling me I’m a grade-A impostor.
I’ve heard my women friends recite this script countless times:
“That A is a fluke – I just got lucky.”
“I thought I did terrible on my essay, I don’t know what happened!”
“I have no idea why they hired me. There must not have been many applicants.”
These deflections are tied to how women are often routinely taught to always remain humble and modest, which can lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.
As women, we are constantly forced to exist in and navigate confining spaces.
We can’t be too confident because that’s vain. We must attribute our success to outside influences. We aren’t encouraged to love ourselves and our accomplishments. If we do, we are shamed.
From a young age, girls learn to be quiet, seen but not heard. When we embody leadership skills, we’re called bossy or bitchy. When we answer questions in class, we’re branded as know-it-alls. When working in groups with men, our opinions are ignored (even when our views are objectively better or possess helpful information – SANSA STARK, ANYONE?!).
If women are silenced, it’s easier to maintain and perpetuate oppression. If we are stripped of our voices, we cannot speak truth to power. If we aren’t freely allowed to own our successes, then we’re not worthy of them.
I’m not an “impostor.” I’m a writer and communicator. I know how to write. I’ve been writing for a long-ass time and intend to continue doing so.
At the end of my Salem trip, my cousin and I circled back to our professional convo. I expressed my doubts over landing a job right out of college. She immediately shut me down.
“Why not?” she asked.
Why not? indeed.