Essays Exams Wellbeing

“I just got lucky” Overcoming self-doubt or feeling like a fraud

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“It must have been a fluke”, “they must have made a mistake”  – sound familiar? It may not seem it, but surprisingly  many students deal with self-doubt or feeling like a fraud at University, and these anxieties can become more prevalent when receiving assessment and exam results.  Despite the fact your feedback from lecturers and tutors is that you’re doing well, and your marks reflect this you still can’t help shake the feeling you’re going to fail, or you don’t really belong. 

‘Imposter syndrome’ is something you may have heard about over the past few years with celebrities and high-achievers such as Michelle Obama, Emma Watson and Tom Hanks all talking about how they’ve suffered with it. And while you may not have full blown imposter syndrome, everyone has self-doubts to varying degrees. 

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome (surprise, surprise) isn’t a new phenomenon. The term comes from a study that was conducted in the late 1970s, and is described as when an individual doubts their achievements, or feels they don’t deserve their accomplishments and has a persistent fear they are going to be discovered as a “fraud.” 

There are also external factors that play a big part in feeling like an imposter. Culture and social-political environments can have an impact. For example in some cultures people are less inclined to celebrate their success for fear of being labelled arrogant. Women and minority populations are also more likely to experience imposter syndrome due to cultural and social inequities. 

Added to our emotional need to belong and fit in, rather than stand out also plays a role in us playing down our abilities, as part of a survival strategy. Therefore we are not the sole creator of our self-doubting tendencies. It’s part of being human. We do however have the power to do something about it.

Steps to reduce self-doubt and anxiety:

  1. Speak to someone

More often than not, speaking to someone and being open about your feelings tends to be the answer. By talking to a trusted friend or a mentor you can be reassured that the feelings you have are totally normal. And have probably also been experienced by the people you’re talking to. 

  1. Reframe your thoughts

Write down a list of things you have achieved, especially over the past year – you’re studying at university in a global pandemic! – is a good way of reminding yourself of your abilities. (This is the easy part).

Next as you go through the list challenge are thoughts or feelings of self-doubt that arise. If the voice in your head is saying ‘You just got lucky’ question it, how would a confident person or non-imposter respond. Think what you would say in response to a friend and say it to yourself. This isn’t going to change your self-doubts overnight, but the more you do it, and practice, the easier it becomes to reframe your thoughts and put them in perspective. 

  1. Learn to fail and value constructive criticism

Anything you deem as a failure, rethink it as an opportunity to learn. In modern day society it can almost seem taboo to talk about failure. With the rise of social media and comparison culture we very rarely see people highlighting their failures. But without failing there is no way to learn, and move forward. Read student Laura’s article on ‘Learning to fail.’ 

Similarly try and see the value in constructive criticisms. When you get constructive criticism feedback on your work see this as a positive thing. This lets you know how you can progress. 

4. Seek support if you need to

Finally don’t forget that you were accepted onto your course for a reason – and this reason was due to your abilities. However, there are times when you may feel overwhelmed at University. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone and there is support available to help you manage these feelings. 

To find out more on dealing with imposter syndrome and other worries visit the Student Support pages.

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