Tuesday, November 8th, 2016...3:21 am

Dealing with Imposter Syndrome: Tips from Those Who’ve Been There

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Grad Panel

Grad Panel

At last week’s Optimize Your Graduate Experience, we had the opportunity to hear from some different grad students about their experiences in grad school, and how they deal with imposter syndrome. For those who don’t know, imposter syndrome is the all-too-common feeling of not measuring up, not feeling like you deserve to be here, and feeling like you have to compare yourself to others in/out of your program.  Sound familiar? Turns out, most people (grad students and those who graduated 20+ years ago!) have felt these feelings at one point or another, but the question is: How do we deal with them? How do we turn off that niggling voice in our head saying, “You’re not good enough” so that we can get on with our days and prove it wrong? Here are some tips that our grad student panelists shared last week:

  1. Create a wall of inspiration: Find messages, pictures, song lyrics, etc. that inspire you and bring you to your happy place. When you’re feeling low, you can look to your wall for a much needed reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
  2. Put your acceptance letter somewhere visible: For a coup de grace, add your acceptance letter to your wall of inspiration/motivation; it’s a good reminder that we all deserve to be here, and that we’ve worked hard to earn our place.
  3. Greet each day with a ‘beginner’s mind’: Simply put, try to recognize that every day is a new opportunity to start again. This may sound a little cliche, and certainly more easily said than done, but focusing on what you can start fresh with is a great way to move forward, especially when you’ve experienced setbacks.
  4. Acknowledge the imposter syndrome: for some reason, these imposter syndrome feelings aren’t much talked about among grad students, but they should be. If you don’t feel comfortable chatting with people in your program, turn to a support system outside of school. Don’t have one? Now’s the perfect chance to join a club and meet some new friends. If you’re still uncertain about who will listen, the  Health & Wellness Centre offers coping workshops meant just for this.

    Talk to people about it

    Talk to people about it

  5. Find control and validation in other areas of your life: sometimes, imposter syndrome can stem from having to give up control of the direction of our education to advisors; regain some of that “in control” feeling by choosing how you spend your free time. Bonus if you take up a hobby and find validation in that; it’s always good to remind ourselves that our skills and strengths don’t lie entirely within the realm of graduate academia. Maybe you’re a talented artist, a great musician, trying to run your fastest 5km? Everyone has something.

    Find validation outside of academia.

    Find validation outside of academia.

  6. Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes to other people’s highlight reels: this is the Facebook syndrome; no one puts their lows on Facebook, but they do put all of their “I wish I could do that” envy-inspiring moments. Don’t forget that behind-the-scenes, it may not all be sunshines and rainbows, so take the highlights with a grain of salt and a reality check.
  7. Embrace failure: failing is hard, but it’s also what’s going to lead you to the novel idea, that breakthrough moment, and that “perfect” solution. If you’re still trying after you fail, that’s still a success.
  8. Redefine how you talk to yourself: Change the conversation in your head; instead of saying “I’m a grad student, BUT I failed”, try saying “I’m a grad student AND I failed”. When you change the “but” to “and”, you open the possibility of “because…” Why did you fail? Was it something beyond your control? Is there something you can learn from for next time? How can you turn this otherwise negative experience into a learning one?

Above all, know that you are not alone in feeling like your best isn’t alway good enough. Part of belonging to a competitive university (and let’s face it, society) means that we’re going to sometimes compare ourselves to others, and rely too much on the voice inside our heads that is our harshest critic. Instead of encouraging this voice, tell yourself everyday, “I am enough”, you might just end up believing it.



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