Imposter Syndrome

There is a common phenomenon- a disease of the mind, if you like- that a staggering number of people are plagued by, and it often goes unrecognised. It can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem, and, as a consequence, masses of wasted potential. The disease was termed ‘Imposter Syndrome’, by two clinical psychologists, Clance and Imes, back in 1978, and it can be defined as a constant feeling of intellectual fraudulence, of never being good enough, despite all the evidence that might suggest otherwise. Imposter Syndrome is the polar opposite of qualities of exaggerated superiority (like arrogance, narcissism, or egomania) and it comes as no surprise that whilst many women suffer from the former malady, more men seem to suffer from the latter, perhaps as a result of gender socialisation.

Feelings of inferiority tend to stem directly from comparing oneself to others, and it goes without saying that people tend to be intimidated by those who are more ‘clever’ or more experienced than them, but the very people who are guilty of frequently belittling themselves in comparison to others fail to look beyond this initial erudite disparity, and they also fail to realise that they too have the capability to reach the same level, and to venture even further. Moreover, they fail to remember that people tend to specialise in different branches of knowledge and intelligence. While some people excel in writing stories, or in endeavours of the aesthetic kind, others are mathematical geniuses, or doctors-in-the-making, or chess champions. Sure, there are several people who are academic ‘all-rounders’, but this was almost undoubtedly the product of hard work, as opposed to mere luck. As most students discover at different points during their educational journeys, there are no substitutes to self-belief and hard work.

People are unique and varied, but something that seems to connect us all is our shared curiosity and desire to improve. This is where the notorious notion of the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ comes into play: irrational self-doubt can severely limit us and hinder our intellectual growth, so the next time somebody compliments your talents, consider humbly accepting and internalising the compliment, rather than desperately trying to evade the spotlight. Acknowledge your brilliance, but don’t let the toxic sentiments of inadequacy or (on the flip-side) complacency cloud your mind-set. Your cerebral hinterland is neither static nor limited, so let it grow. Get involved in things, and contribute to discussions and debates, irrespective of how ‘inexperienced’ you might be. You can, and you will, get there (and even further): it just requires some time and effort.

The main determinant of intelligence, in my view, is not a factor that is genetic, nor arbitrary. All human beings are born with roughly the same amount of intellectual potential, but what sets some people apart from others is (aside from the lottery of birth, of course) how well they nurtured this innate potential, and, ultimately, how strong their passions for their chosen fields were.

Personally, I have found that the best way to combat the monster of self-doubt is through adopting a growth mind-set, rather than a fixed one- by telling yourself that although you may not be where you want to be yet, you most certainly can get there. You must strive to keep growing; self-doubt and self-pity will restrict this growth, but self-belief, on the other hand, will proliferate it.

I hope that you soon come to see that you are good enough. You are not stupid or less worthy than anybody else, and nobody belongs here (or anywhere) more than you. You are an individual with a fertile mind and an immense amount of potential, and anything that you deem worth learning is learnable. So grow, into the person you know you can become, even if doing so might make a few people uncomfortable.

As the cliche saying goes, the key is to simply believe in yourself, and, as Stephen Hawking once said,

“Remember to look up at the stars, and not down at your feet”.

Sadia Ahmed, 2017


A hurricane is near.

It emerges from the outskirts and finds its way to my mind-

The epicentre.

There is no helping me now; I have lost

What it means to be found.

So tell me not of rationality or love or fulfilment,

For I am empty,

And the hurricane, it comes,

And it sweeps up the debris of stagnant satisfaction.

I am now happy, for I am empty no longer.

The calm centre- the eye of the storm- is where I stand, breathe,

My blood boils and my thoughts are a whirlwind,

But I stand and I breathe.

I let the hurricane lift me from the comfort of the ground.

It plunges me into the unknown,

And sheds the part of my skin that dared to make me feel unworthy.

Sadia Ahmed, 2016