Photo Credit- Business Betties

Imposter Who?

Brandy Propst

December 6, 2016

One of the students that I mentor graduated this past May and entered a graduate program this fall. We had a brief conversation about transitioning from an undergraduate student to a graduate student and embarking on the journey to become a student affairs professional. During our conversation, she mentioned her uncertainty, or fear I should say, of feeling like everyone would think she was a fake and not having any knowledge of what she would be doing. She was particularly worried about the students she would be working with and what they would think about her ability to serve in the role that she had been offered. It was very clear what she was experiencing but I refused to validate her feelings and tell her it was okay to feel that way. I know that imposter syndrome is very real for a lot of student affairs professionals, especially women.  But, I’ve always thought it was an interesting concept and have been adamant about not letting the idea become of a part of my thought process. There are plenty of people in society that doubt the abilities of women so let’s stop doubting ourselves, too. With the prevalence of this idea amongst women in our field, I offer up a few helpful tips below so that we can all put imposter syndrome to bed.

Be confident. A little bit of confidence can get you far. My mom taught me that if you’re not confident in your abilities, then you can’t expect anyone else to be confident in your abilities. If your supervisor gives you a project and you appear to be less confident about your end product, he/she will probably not be confident in what you create or produce. As a result, you may be overlooked for the next major assignment and could hurt your chances for growth and advancement in the future.

Ask questions. If you are new to a position and there is an area or skill that you are unfamiliar with, ask questions. As a supervisor, I would be concerned if my supervisee did not ask questions.  In fact, I expect her to ask questions because I expect that she will not know everything. Asking questions doesn’t mean that you don’t know what you are doing. It means that you want to gather the right information to ensure that you do your job correctly.

Utilize your strengths.  Many of us have taken Strengths Quest and have our top 5 strengths listed on our LinkedIn profiles and email signatures but forget to apply the results to our everyday work life. My number one strength is Relator. When I need to learn about a new initiative or take on a new responsibility, I will utilize this strength to connect with colleagues who I have built relationships with and who can provide good insight or expertise. Utilize your strengths to build upon areas that you have little to no experience in. You will learn something new while building social capital and sustaining relationships that will help you in the long run.

Change your mindset. If you haven’t read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, imposter syndrome would be an example of a fixed mindset. Possessing a fixed mindset leads to the need to prove your abilities, to prove that you are not a fraud or fear that people will think you are a less than perfect professional. Ask yourself would you have been hired if your supervisor thought you were not capable of doing the job successfully? Don’t let fear, change or doing something new stop you from learning or advancing. Don’t let fear get in the way of your future. You’re a professional and what you don’t know you will learn and will evitably be successful.

Have faith in your preparation. We work hard to get through graduate school to earn a masters or doctorate degree. We spend time attending conferences, trainings and webinars to learn best practices and current trends. We read books, articles and blog posts to develop ourselves.  After all of that, why doubt our abilities?  Have faith in your preparation, believe in your training and trust the knowledge and experience that you have gained.

I shared these tips with my mentee in the hopes that she will grow and develop without feeling like an imposter. How have you overcome feeling like an imposter? What tips do you have for putting imposter syndrome to bed?

Brandy S. Propst is the Director of Elon 101 & Assistant Director of Academic Advising at Elon University. She is new to her position and has been utilizing these tips as she transitions into her new role. Connect with her on twitter at @brandyspropst.

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