“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you are not” ~ Denis Waitley
My whole life I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded with people who are incredibly successful—teachers, professors, parents, and students —and here’s what I’ve learned: very few think they deserve the life they have. If an actor gets a hundred great reviews, she will focus on the one that has two lines that sting. When a student gets 19/20 on an exam, she will think of the one question she missed. Most of us, as it turns out, don’t feel worthy.
I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t suffer from some form or degree of “imposter syndrome.” For me, I became aware of this feeling of self-doubt and “not being worthy” when I graduated from MSU Denver with my Bachelor’s Degree. As a first-generation college student, I should have been proud that I was able to accomplish something that no one else in my family had the opportunity or ability to accomplish. Instead, as I walked across the stage, all I could think was that someone had made a mistake by letting me graduate. Years later, when I got a job in higher education, I attributed my success to the one person who “gave me a chance” and it was due to that person that I am where I am today—10 years later—not due to my own ability.
Self-doubt, also known as impostor syndrome, is more common than one would think. If you ever have doubts about whether you are worthy of something, or question how you got “so lucky,” then you are in good company. Some of the most notable authors, celebrities, and academics have also felt as if they were an impostor in their field. Maya Angelou, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, and Albert Einstein—all have felt that one day they will be “found out.” People will think that they are not smart enough, funny enough, or even capable of being the successful person they have become.
To my surprise, after years of feeling inadequate—not good enough, not smart enough, not strong, pretty, thin, tall, kind, generous, funny, wealthy, patient enough—I’m oddly content with who I am. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I’ve learned to accept that there are things I will never be good at (parallel parking, organizing my desk, physics) and have decided that’s okay. There will always be moments when I look back and say, “How did I get so lucky?,” but I will then try to correct myself and respond with, “because I worked hard, and earned it.”
This contentment did not happen overnight, and the feeling of self-doubt is something I will continue to battle throughout my life. However, when I think about how to overcome momentary feelings of inadequacy, here are some ways to convince myself “I am worthy.”
- Awareness is key: This is the first step to change. Realizing when and why these thoughts flood your mind will help you stop and reframe them into something positive.
- Rewrite your mental script: When someone compliments you, just say “thank you.” Very few individuals who suffer from self-doubt can take a compliment for face value. We always find excuses of how it could have been better. Instead of downplaying your successes, simply say “thank you.” Eventually you’ll start believing that you deserve the praise.
- There is no such thing as failure, only opportunity: We all make mistakes, and when we realize we’ve made a mistake, we try to not make that mistake again. We learn from these opportunities, and continue to grow from them. Use these lived experiences as opportunities to continue to improve and grow.
- Stop comparing yourself to “that” person: There will always be someone who you think is smarter, prettier, more successful… But what’s to say you are not “that” person to someone else? You could be the person others compare themselves to when thinking of what success truly looks like. You are “that” person too.
- Be kind to yourself: We will have moments of insecurity and feelings of self-doubt. This does not make you a bad person. Recognize that perfection is unachievable and stop being so hard on yourself. Allowing yourself not be perfect, and being okay with that, will give yourself more realistic expectations of yourself. And you won’t freak out when you make a genuine mistake and think the whole world will realize what a fraud you are. Because you are not a fraud. You’re just human.
So whenever you start to feel like “you’re not good enough” or “I don’t deserve _____”, just remember that you are probably a whole lot more awesome than you think. Remember that “you belong here” and “you deserve this.” Why? Because you worked hard for it.
Camelia A. Naranjo, M.A., NCC | Advising and Retention Coordinator
Learning Communities and First Year Success
Check out the FYS blog at https://msudenverfys.wordpress.com