As I began pursuing my graduate degree, and my path began to form, I felt unworthy of its pursuit. As a first-generation college graduate, it can be difficult to feel your success to be your own.
You share it with so many people—your parents, who likely did not graduate high school themselves; your younger siblings, who look to you for guidance and to set an example for them to follow; and everyone else intrinsically tied to you. Everyone praises you for what you have accomplished, yet you are left feeling undeserving of it (1-4).
For me, my imposter syndrome manifests this way often. In conversations, my colleagues, friends, and family may mention my success or accomplishments, and I find myself instantly downplaying whatever they say. I turn down opportunities to discuss my professional passions and accomplishments out of fear of being “found out.” I tell myself: eventually, somewhere down the line, someone has to notice that I am not the person I appear to be.
This is not true, however. It’s imposter syndrome that leads to this frame of thinking. It causes you to believe you are not tied to your success, that it has occurred from luck of the draw (1-4).
WHAT IS IMPOSTER SYNDROME?
Does any of this sound familiar?
You may have recently completed your graduate degree and now you are left feeling ill-prepared to take on your next role.
Perhaps you have delayed taking your certification exam out of fear that you lack the knowledge necessary to pass.
Or perhaps you have found your dream job, but you did not apply out of fear of being rejected due to a lack of experience or competency.
Or, perhaps you have been in your role a while and you are often recognized for your hard-work and accomplishments, but you downplay them.
You have been offered positions or opportunities, but rejected them out of fear someone will call you out for being incapable of completing the job.
If any of these sound like you, you may be suffering from imposter syndrome.
Common among high achieving individuals, imposter syndrome occurs as a result of frequent feelings of self-doubt and fear related to being seen as a fraud or imposter (1-4). These feelings lead to individuals disassociating themselves from their accomplishments, incapable of contributing their successes to their knowledge, skills, and competence (1-4).
Imposter syndrome can lead to anxiety and depression and decreased confidence, job satisfaction, and job performance (1, 2, & 3). Unfortunately, imposter syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, which often leads to ambiguity on how to manage the burdensome syndrome (1-4). In a recent research study, however, researchers found that there were several methods useful in mitigating the negative impact imposter syndrome has on advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) (3).
These methods are simple to follow and just require an open-mind!
FOUR SIMPLE METHODS TO COMBAT IMPOSTER SYNDROME
Method One: Mentorship
Throughout the current body of evidence, mentorship is the leading method in combating imposter syndrome (1-4). There are two types of mentorship known to be effective: peer mentorship and professional mentorship (3).
As you progressed through your program, it is likely you met and connected with peers. Peer mentorships allow you both to share your experiences, which may reveal shared feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, common in imposter syndrome (3). Peer relationships validate where you are and where you intend to go through shared experiences, such as taking your certification exam or finding your first job. You will want to build this relationship over time, through frequent and consistent contact (3).
My peer mentorship developed naturally over the course of two years, where we began as FNP students and matriculated into being doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) students. Our relationship is largely informal, but we keep each other balanced and centered. When I feel unsure of something, I contact my peer mentor and we talk through it and vice versa. In fact, before I discussed writing this article, I contacted her to discuss the opportunity, where she encouraged me to share my experiences with imposter syndrome and validated my ability to handle the task!
Professional mentorships may begin within your work environment or outside of your work environment (2 & 4). Within your organization, this person is typically in your job field with experience in their role within the organization. This type of mentor will help you develop your expertise by guiding you through your role and acknowledging your successes. A mentor outside of work may be someone in a similar role to you, but will be unable to speak to your specific role and organization requirements. Mentors outside of your job role may be working within your dream role or professional advisors for a particular skill.
With both types of professional mentors, there will likely be a designated time frame for your relationship and established goals you both want to meet during your time together. Mentors should be validating your successes and encouraging you to take ownership of those successes (2 & 4). Professional mentorships, similarly to peer mentorships, should validate your feelings of imposter syndrome, but allow you to work through them to maximize your potential (2 & 4).
Method Two: Know what you do well
The second recommendation is to know what you do well (3) This means you need to acknowledge and list your accomplishments and strengths frequently. You can request your colleagues to list your strengths if you are uncomfortable with listing them yourselves. Anytime that a colleague or patient writes you a note of praise, keep it, this will serve as a reminder to you that others see your strengths and admire you for them.
Additionally, journaling weekly, or even daily, can be a useful method of acknowledging your successes and strengths. These methods work to mitigate the negative impact your imposter syndrome has on your perceived successes and strengths, as you are more likely to underestimate your skills and successes than others (3).
Method Three: Recognize no one, including yourself, can be perfect
If you are anything like me, this one will be the hardest one to practice. Research recommends that we acknowledge that no one person can be perfect. (1-4) This means we cannot have all of the information in the world, we are bound to make mistakes (as everyone does), and that perfection is unattainable (3). Trying to know everything is detrimental to building your unique expertise and can lead to emotional and physical exhaustion. Additionally, know that mistakes, of course, will happen and when they happen in the wake of having imposter syndrome, it can feel like they are monumental failures. In these instances, ground and remind yourself that this is not a failure, but a small error that can be fixed.
Striving for perfection can cause emotional and physical exhaustion, in fact, perfectionism can lead to one making more mistakes than intended (1-4). This method is especially difficult to utilize when you are first beginning to navigate your imposter syndrome, but putting effort into the method can lead to increased job satisfaction and improved peer relationships, both of which help mitigate self-doubt and fear of failure (feelings common in imposter syndrome) (1-4).
Method Four: Keep learning and moving forward
Throughout our nursing careers, whether we are APRNs or bedside nurses, we are expected to maintain a level of competency within our field. Research suggests that pressing forward to expand our competencies can allow us to mitigate the negative effects of imposter syndrome (3). In order to continue learning, however, we must first know what we do not know.
Recognizing what we do not know allows us to identify potential knowledge gaps that can be improved on through higher education, continuing education courses, and skill workshops. Finally, recognize that in each new role you take on, you will begin as a novice, which will require you to grow and develop over time through the aforementioned avenues (3).
Perhaps you are like myself and recently accepted a job as an APRN, where you are new to the role and organization, you may find it overwhelming that you do not have all of the information you need for your role the moment you begin it. That is okay, you will develop this knowledge over time and recognizing what you do not know allows you to pursue that knowledge when opportunities arise (3).
As you develop your expertise and knowledge set, your feelings of self-doubt and being a fraud will begin to fade, which may result in the resolution of your imposter syndrome over time (3).
Now that you know a bit more about imposter syndrome and a few methods to battle the nagging feelings associated with it, I urge you to begin your journey to recovery. It will be a long, difficult road, but with the right tools and people surrounding you, you are bound to improve your imposter syndrome, and even learn a thing or too!
Barr-Walker, J., Werner, D. A., Kellermeyer, L., & Bass, M. B. (2020). Coping with impostor feelings: Evidence-based recommendations from a mixed methods study. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 15(2), 24-41. https://doi.org/10.31229/osf.io/gw9pm
Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2019). Prevalence, predictors, and treatment of impostor syndrome: A systematic review. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 35(4), 1252-1275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1
Haney, T. S., Birkholz, L., & Rutledge, C. (2018). A workshop for addressing the impact of the imposter syndrome on clinical nurse specialists. Clinical Nurse Specialist, 32(4), 189-194. https://doi.org/10.1097/nur.0000000000000386
Ramsey, E., & Brown, D. (2017). Feeling like a fraud: Helping students renegotiate their academic identities. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 25(1), 86-90. https://doi.org/10.1080/10691316.2017.1364080