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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Written by QCMHA member, Taylor Mackenzie

First days are always memorable, and my first day at Queen’s was no different. I distinctly remember taking my first steps into Goodes, looking around, and being so excited for all that I knew was to come. Despite this excitement though, below the surface I could not get rid of thoughts telling me my admission was a case of pure luck and that it was only a matter of time before people realized I didn’t belong. While I initially equated these feelings to just being grateful to be in the program, further experiences, such as experiencing extreme self-doubt before job interviews and being suspicious of positive feedback, have more recently made me identify these inner thoughts as the result of imposter syndrome.

Having imposter syndrome is described as having feelings of self-doubt and even fraudulence when comparing your achievements and what others think of you to your perception of yourself. On top of often doubting the opportunities and achievements I am given, to me, this means I often feel the need to do everything perfectly to avoid failure, and if I feel I have not attained perfection, i have an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt. Looking back, I have let these feelings overcome my thoughts and hold me back from taking risks, which upon reflection, is something I knew needed to change and that I was willing to focus on improving. While I am in no way an expert and have not completely overcome these thoughts, I have developed three ways in which have best helped me manage these feelings, and hopefully, they can be helpful to someone else too:

1. Talking About It

Just as the QCMHA team is always talking about the importance of normalizing conversation on mental health and illness so that people know they are not alone in their struggles, I have learned that the same applies to overcoming imposter syndrome. Chances are that when you share your feelings with those around you, you will quickly realize how widespread these thoughts are and will feel you no longer have to bare the burden of overcoming them alone. Furthermore, a pep talk from a friend or gaining insight from a teacher/mentor can often provide you with the tools to begin conquering these feeling internally or the perspective to see things more clearly.

2. Reframing Failure as an Opportunity

When trying to obtain perfection, we often view failing as the enemy and, therefore, miss out on all of the learning and development that comes with it. In approaching situations where I feel inadequate or out of place, it has been immensely helpful for me to accept that fact that I don’t need to succeed right away, and that the worst that can happen is that I fail, learn from it, and use those learnings constructively for future success. With this new sense of leeway in mind, I have already begun opening myself up to opportunities I was previously scared of and giving myself the patience needed to learn from them.

3. Positive Self Talk

Finally, I have been working on becoming more forgiving and rewarding towards myself. While it is great to have a support system around you who is there for you when you fail and recognizes when you succeed, learning to do these things for yourself and truly internalizing them is something that takes work, but, at least for me, has had the most profound payoff. Anytime you feel yourself doubting a praise or accomplishment, practice making a list of all the reasons you deserve that recognition. While this might feel challenging at first, over time, it will help create a habit of positive affirmations that will become a positive part of your every day life.

Through these steps of talking about my feeling with others, reframing failure, and treating myself with kindness, I am proud of the progress I have made in dealing with imposter syndrome and look forward to continuing to work on this moving forward.

While I would still label myself as a perfectionist, I have created a new definition of perfection for myself, which is that achieving perfectionism isn’t about never making mistakes, it is about not accepting just “good enough”. To me, this means always trying my best and being thoughtful in everything I do, and learning to judge success on this effort and not on obtaining a “perfect” outcome.

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