So, how many of you have ever felt like you’re a fake, a fraud, an imposter? That you’re not as bright and deserving of praise as your mentors, friends, and loved ones tell you that you are, and that one day, you will be exposed as a fraud, who only got where you are because of some web of unfairness?
I’ve been there. I remember very vivid instances of it, and went out of my way to avoid accusations of it. The first was when I was a sophomore in university, and got an unusually high essay score in all of my work compared to the rest of the class. The teacher, like me, was Jewish, and someone hinted darkly at me that he thought I was only getting such an easy pass because of “Jewish nepotism”. I should not have let that get to me, but I did, and my self esteem plummeted. It only got restored back to its original spot once I got a C- on an essay, proving that theory wrong. I ended the class with a solid B+, because I sabotaged myself through letting that antisemitic spiel get to me.
Another instance of it was when I was looking for grad schools in Canada. I was dreaming of McGill, U of Toronto, UVic, and UBC. My number one pick was originally UBC, because it has such a famous law department and has a great Asian law section in particular. But I froze in my dreams of UBC when I remembered that my godfather, who was my father’s very best friend until he died, is the head of the Law Department at UBC. I shuddered at the thought of someone digging that up and implying that future lawyer-me only got where I did because of my godfather’s position with the Law Department. So I scratched UBC off my list of potential law schools. Good thing I still have so many left in Canada which offer a J.D (I am thinking U of Victoria for convenience, but U of Toronto has a combined Juris Doctor/International Relations M.A program! *swoon*)
This is ridiculous and I know it. I should be proud of my achievements, and know my own abilities and be proud that I got as far as I did. But it’s difficult to shake that feeling of “I don’t belong here, I’m not worthy!” It’s not just me that suffers from it. Jaime has it too, in her position as a theoretical physicist. It seems to be more common amongst women than men.
I don’t know if there is a name for this phenomenon, but it makes me wonder how many bright, talented, capable people were held back by feeling this way. It can be overwhelming sometimes, to be in a highly respected field, and wonder if you truly belong there or whether all of this up until now has been a cruel, cruel joke. I’m not going to let it stop me though. Silly self-esteem boosters aside, I want to be able to own a courtroom when I walk into it, be proud of my abilities, and know just how far I have come, without being overwhelmed by imagined faults or trickery on my part.