When it Feels Like You're Faking it: Recognizing Impostor Syndrome

Pushya Jataprolu '16

Pushya Jataprolu '16

By Pushya Jataprolu '16

“I can’t believe I’m going to Booth” is probably how you shared it with your friends after that first phone call that said, “Congratulations and welcome!”

Was it that you felt unbelievably happy about being so fortunate or was there some part of you that felt undeserving? I know I wasn’t so sure if I’d get my UChicago ID card when I stepped into 5807 S. Woodlawn Ave; maybe I was an admissions mistake! But I was surprised at how many accomplished people around me felt the same way. While it didn’t take too long after that to make Booth home, it is hard not to look back at that feeling.

To all the humble folks out there who set extremely high standards for themselves, maybe you can relate to one of these scenarios. Did you see a trend in your 360 feedback of giving yourself less credit than you deserve? Perhaps you kicked yourself for being too shy during ACT (the LEAD speech, not the test) or maybe you wanted to speak up about that awesome idea in class today and didn’t. Let me introduce you to the Impostor Syndrome.

Let’s try putting it into perspective with a beverage metaphor. When you achieve something, the simple thing to do is to accept it at face value, own up to it and identify with it; that’s your scotch served neat. To add a twist, it is possible to perceive it as something that happened to you and less like something you caused. To make it bitter, for the awesomeness overload that you are, you continue to accomplish more and more, which makes you feel undeserving on a regular basis, making yourself spiral down a nasty rabbit hole. Studies show that many successful people feel this way at some point in their lives. Granted, there is some extent of an impostor we all take on that differentiates us in public and private circles, but it gets really troubling when it goes beyond humility, to false humility and to a destructive, “I don’t deserve this.”

It is absolutely possible to lose sight of this tendency, especially when you are neck deep in academic courses, recruiting and social scenes. You read that right, MBA students are very likely to be overwhelmed by the achievements of their peers and often either forget or attribute their own success to luck. Wait, what? And women are more likely than men to presume that others have over-estimated their abilities. While some of you may have never faced this, I’m willing to bet that many of you just found a new name to express what you felt early in September this year. The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman likens Impostor Syndrome to “a classic case of "comparing your insides with other people's outsides": you have access only to your own self-doubt, so you mistakenly conclude it's more justified than anyone else's.”

In any case, the good news is, you’re not alone. A lot of accomplished people have felt this way. In fact, with no loss of generality, feel free to consider yourself on the way to an accomplished life already! Word of caution, “Don’t be hard on yourself”. Your high standards have gotten you here and if you let them, they’ll take you anywhere you want. Know that you can talk about it, because almost everyone has felt this way. And take a moment to cherish your accomplishments. And most importantly, chill and enjoy the madness while it lasts. The amazing journey has begun!

Pushya Jataprolu is a first year student at Chicago Booth.