I still remember my first day in my college's "Intro to Computer Science" class. It felt like I was the only person in the room who hadn't started programming at the age of 12. I also couldn't understand the professor's "techie" jokes, while everyone around me seemed to be having such a great time. Despite struggling through my entire first semester, I kept on going and stuck it out. Thankfully, I can say that the story has a happy ending — I ended up graduating in the top 10 percent of my class.
I felt the same way during the analyst training for my first job on Wall Street, the first months of business school and for about a year as a strategy manager in Brazil. As an entrepreneur, I still get this feeling very often.
In all cases, I found that persistence and resilience helped me overcome the initial learning curve and the naysayer comments. I (mostly) proved to myself that I was just as capable as everyone else thought — if not more — and that I deserved to be there.
Later on in life, I learned that I had experienced a classic case of impostor's syndrome. What is impostor's syndrome?
"The false and sometimes crippling belief that one's successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill."
The term was coined by American psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who published an article called "The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention" in the 1978 journal "Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice." In the article, they provide an extensive definition of impostor's syndrome:
"The term "impostor phenomenon" is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phoniness that appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women…. Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise."
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