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Reality check: 5 Ways to combat imposter syndrome

I can’t do this! What were they thinking when they picked me to write this textbook? Who am I to be conducting this research? Everyone at this presentation is going to know all of this already. I have nothing new to offer to this conversation.

These are just a few of the messages that imposter syndrome may share with you as an author in academia. And each can be the wall that limits or delays your success. Or you can find ways to get a reality check and overcome these false feelings of being unqualified for the task at hand. Below I offer five such ways to combat imposter syndrome.

But first, what is imposter syndrome? According to a 2018 article on the Psychology Today blog, “imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud”. For authors, this often is the source of what we commonly refer to as “writer’s block”.

Because imposter syndrome can halt your progress, it’s important to find ways to move past these feelings of inadequacy and add more successes to your resume, which, in turn, can reduce the likelihood of imposter syndrome rearing its head again (or at least make it easier to combat the next time).

Remind yourself of past success

If you have experiences on which you can acknowledge past success, you can often combat feelings of imposter syndrome with the reality of previous accomplishments. “I wrote a 5,000-word paper on X in college, of course I am qualified to write this 300-word blog article.” The subject matter doesn’t have to be the same, the key is shifting the story playing in your mind to one that says, “I am qualified”.

Get yourself a cheerleader

Find that family member, friend, or colleague who will see your potential, even (and especially) when you can’t see it in yourself. When imposter syndrome kicks in, tell them first. Don’t tell others. Don’t keep it to yourself. Tell your cheerleader how you are feeling. They will immediately remind you of all the ways you are qualified for the task at hand and ones you haven’t even considered accomplishing yet. Before you know it, you’ll be convinced of the greatness you already possess.

Break it down

If you’re not sure how you’ll ever finish that entire textbook, dissertation, or other large-scale project, don’t think about the big picture. Instead, find a starting point that you know is achievable. Can you write a chapter? Research a specific topic? Outline the methodology? Rome wasn’t built in a day and your project doesn’t need to be completed all at once either. As an extra bit of wisdom, most papers and books also don’t have to be written from beginning to end either. If you find an achievable piece in chapter 3, start there and let the momentum carry you back to chapters 1 and 2 later.

Celebrate the mundane

Oftentimes we can get stuck in the rigorous, time-consuming tasks that exist in our processes. This may be times of research early in the project or it may be in those final proofreading and editing phases. The amount of time necessary to complete seemingly “easy” tasks compared to our actual writing can fuel the fire of imposter syndrome. Finding ways to celebrate milestones in those processes to keep you moving forward and rewarding yourself for reaching those goals along the way can keep the negative thoughts from creeping in.

Plan your next success

Make your current project smaller than it may feel by treating it as a stepping stone to your next book, article, presentation, or other professional accomplishment. For most academics, the daunting task of a thesis or dissertation is only one paper in the early part of their career when they look back on it, although in the process it seems like the largest mountain they will ever climb. Put an even bigger mountain behind it and it will put things into perspective.

Imposter syndrome is real, and I’d even go so far as to say that all of us have or will experience it at least once in our lives. The best way to combat it is to ground yourself in reality. You are qualified to be where you are. To move forward, however, requires that you move. Don’t let imposter syndrome stop you from doing so.

Eric Schmieder

Eric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.