We're All Impostors.

Do you ever feel like you're the only one in the room who doesn't deserve to be there? Do you ever feel like one of these days someone is going to discover that you don't actually know anything and somehow you've managed to slip through the cracks for YEARS?

Welcome to the party.

I've felt like an impostor for most of my career. At every stage of the game I've felt like someone made a huge mistake selecting/hiring/trusting me. This is especially true when things are going well: something's been published, or funded, or complimented, and the little goblins in my brain are all: "THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE. YOU'RE A CHARLATAN."

Right now, the little goblins keep saying stuff like: "Who are you to give advice about writing? What the hell do you know? You haven't done anything useful for anyone, ever. This is an incredibly stupid idea. Also: you look fat in those pants."

It feels like I'm the only one in the world who is grappling with feeling like I don't belong. It feels like I'm the only one, but then I read this and this and this, and I know that many of us—especially women—suffer from impostor syndrome. This is especially pervasive in academia.

We're all afraid of being judged. We all feel like we don't belong. We're all impostors.

Sometimes those feelings can propel us, in that blustery OH YEAH? I'LL SHOW YOU kind of way. Other times it paralyzes us. At the core of the impostor syndrome is the belief that we just don't measure up to our role.

So what do we do about it? How do we push forward when it feels like we're walking around with F-R-A-U-D tattooed on our forehead? Those little goblins can be really effing persuasive.

Want more advice like this? Join my weekly newsletter!

Trying to paper over those thoughts has always backfired on me. The only way I know how to do it is this:

  1. Acknowledge that I feel like a useless, know-nothing interloper. Staring that fear in the eye is the only way through it for me. Admitting that I'm scared and I feel like I don't belong is the only thing that has ever worked.

  2. Recognize that the impostor syndrome usually shows up when I'm pushing my boundaries. The truth is that most people suffering from impostor syndrome are high achievers—the ones who test their limits regularly.

  3. Find an ally who believes in me and who can cheer me on. Talking about it with a mentor, a colleague, or a friend (or all three) helps to dissipate those feelings even more. I also keep a folder in my Inbox called 'Fuel', where I save thank-you notes, accolades, and other positive messages that remind me I have actually done things that matter.

  4. Screw it, just do it. Sooner or later I just have to do it anyway and put one foot in front of the other. And you know what? It's possible that someone somewhere is going to call bullshit. But I can handle it. I've been through a lot worse.

The bottom line is to make sure that the impostor syndrome doesn't stop you. Do it anyway.

Are you suffering from impostor syndrome? How do you handle it? Tell me in the comments!

Sarah xx

Hey! writing your R01 application doesn't have to feel like such a slog.

I made you a 90-Day NIH R01 Planning Blueprint to take some of the stress out of writing your next R01 application. Sign up to map out exactly what to do to write an outstanding proposal—and when to do it.