“What if I just got lucky?”

It’s the question that lives in the hearts and minds of every person struggling with impostor syndrome. Along with,

“Next time, I’ll fail and then everyone will know I’m not clever after all.”

When a person is living with impostor syndrome, they are emotionally incapable of internalizing their accomplishments as real and deserved. They fear that their achievements are the result of some beneficial twist of fate, when in reality they are the fruits of talent and effort.

In the worst case, it’s a crippling fear of being found out that turns into a pathological avoidance of the spotlight. (I’m talking about something beyond the normal amount of self-doubt everyone struggles with at some point in their lives).  

The impostor syndrome phenomenon is typically associated with women, and for understandable reasons. Many women live with a lack of large-scale support for their efforts, along with a fundamental mistrust of their motivations. They are told that they are too emotional or irrational.  One need only to turn to history (or more conveniently, the A Mighty Girl Facebook page) and read about the countless women whose historical contributions have been forgotten or mis-ascribed.

Just recently, I began to connect impostor syndrome with my students’ avoidance of challenging educational experiences. Honestly, their avoidance is the product of numerous social-emotional challenges, but I rarely hear anyone discussing how impostor syndrome might be a contributing factor.

A little while back, I presented a webinar for SENG titled “The Unique Challenge of Being a Gifted Woman.” While preparing for that event, I spent a lot of time cogitating on my own life as a twice-exceptional woman and my avoidance of challenge. I realized that when I have struggled with impostor syndrome, it wasn’t only due to the fact that I’m a woman.

It’s also because I have achieved great things in hands-on project-based settings, like a laboratory or a workshop, only to have my self-image torn apart during a timed test or otherwise judged for my inability to produce memorized information on demand.

As a young woman I thought this meant I was stupid, when what’s actually stupid is taking bright children and forcing them to demonstrate knowledge under terms that benefit only one type of learner. It’s a waste of time, a waste of resources, and a waste of abilities.

Not all is lost. I’m cheered that through the work of homeschoolers, micro-schools, and other alternative learning centers, children are learning that their worth isn’t as measurable and finite as a letter on a test.

Together, we’re combatting impostor syndrome. We’re showing these kids that the future needs problem solvers and innovators, that their divergent thoughts can lead to just as much success as an “A” on a math test.

This is a truth that I’m only now beginning to fully internalize. I’m glad my students won’t have to wait that long.

Let me know what tips and tricks have helped you overcome impostor syndrome.