Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

This year’s AHA Scientific Sessions has a strong focus on racial and gender diversity and equity, as well as creating inclusive environments in science and medicine. It is great to see that there are increasingly more opportunities opened up to people who are traditionally underrepresented, but there are still challenges that are faced when we get there. One discussion that really interested me focused on one of those challenges: imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is an internal struggle. It is the inability to recognize your own success; the feeling that you don’t belong somewhere and will soon be outed as a fraud. As a Black woman and the youngest person in my PhD cohort, it is a feeling that I have felt too many times to count. Imposter syndrome can cause you to self-sabotage by not applying to opportunities, missing deadlines, or avoiding networking because you feel that you do not belong in that space. The panelists today – Dr. Toniya Singh, Dr. Gina Lundberg, Dr. Aaysha Cader, Dr. Ambreen Mohamed, Dr. Aamisha Gupta, Dr. Janet Han, and Dr. Nasrien Ibrahim – discussed the ways in which we can overcome imposter syndrome and reach our fullest potential.

When feelings of inadequacy first appear, it is important to recognize that feelings are not fact. Dr. Gupta stresses defining the facts by listing your accomplishments and qualifications. Reframe your thoughts to center everything you contribute instead of the credit you think you should get. Women, in particular, tend to underestimate themselves, so it is helpful to have a diverse circle of friends and allies that can be honest with you, encourage you, and advocate for you to others. If you have the means, having a career coach can help you to focus on your goals while providing honest and objective feedback on strengths and weaknesses. It is an invaluable investment in yourself. Imposter syndrome can also make public speaking difficult. Dr. Lundberg suggests focusing on presenting for one specific person instead of a large audience. Remind yourself that you are the expert here and that everyone who is watching wants you to be yourself and to succeed.

Regular self-reflection can help quickly overcome imposter syndrome in the future. Dr. Cader emphasizes aligning your behaviors with your values so there is no dissonance between what you are doing and what you want. Finding intrinsic value in the things that you do can make it easier to recognize your achievements. When you put time into doing what you love, you can’t help but dream big. This panel reminded me that imposter syndrome is something many people go through and that you can experience it and still be successful. Talking about your experiences can help everyone overcome this challenge so that when opportunities arise, we don’t hesitate to take them.


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