The Imposter Within
Updated: May 30, 2019
By Chanda Murphy, PhD
Recently I gave a 5-minute IGNITE talk on surviving the “imposter syndrome” in graduate school at the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology (SIOP) annual conference. I can talk … A LOT … so to sum up something that has plagued me almost my whole life in five minutes was a daunting task. My friends even laughed when they asked what I would be speaking on, unsure, perhaps, if I should be the one to expound upon imposter syndrome since I am honest about the fact that it has long been my albatross. And *spoiler alert* it’s not just something you suffer from in graduate school; it’s a life long “frenemy.” One of those things that as soon as you think you have kicked it to the curb, the second you leave the door cracked it sneaks right back in. Most recently, after I made a big career change, it had pulled a chair right up to my dinner table.
To me, the best way to describe or define the imposter syndrome is a lack of confidence, feelings of being inadequate in your environment or ultimately feeling like a fraud. Many times it manifests when we are engaging in our comparing minds – the part of us that forgets that only we can truly define who we are. This same part of our brain falls victim to allowing other people’s comments, or our own comparisons to others, to create a narrative in our head of who we are not.
So here’s the irony, never have I felt more like an imposter than giving a talk on the imposter syndrome at a conference for an industry in which I feel like an imposter. To better understand, let me give you a little more information: I am an Industrial Organizational Psychologist who enjoys coaching leaders, teams and people to work together more efficiently and with harmony (because secretly I always wanted to be a sports psychologist, but life took me in another direction). Since a health scare five years ago, I am now also a certified yogi, mindfulness practitioner and meditation instructor that truly believes as a society we have lost the “human” in humanity. So how do I, a self-proclaimed “woo woo” individual, walk into, much less present at, a research conference that doesn’t want to hear about my “woo woo” thoughts unless I can show they have a significance level of less than .05 (research joke). My nerves started to get the best of me the more I thought about it. So I did the only thing I could think of, I took a breath. I defaulted to what I have been working on for the past five years and put my mindfulness practice to work. I meditated on self-compassion, non-judgment and trust in myself because, after all, this authenticity I needed to be reminded of was exactly what I would be espousing as the antidote to the imposter syndrome just a few hours later.
We are all human. We all suffer from doubt. We just cannot allow it to consume us. Even the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu joke about their insecurities in their joint effort, The Book of Joy. If these two guys (that I believe Abraham Maslow would argue have hit the level of self-actualization) question their place in this world at times, then don’t we all deserve to forgive ourselves and be ok with our insecurities instead of embodying them? Most importantly, as my IGNITE talk summarized, whenever you are questioning your place, your strengths or who you are, remember only you can define you. Find the “you” in your story again, live that you authentically, because only then will that imposter voice be defeated.