Do I know what I’m doing? Will I ever get this? I won’t make any sense when I try to explain this. Apparently, this is what people call “imposter syndrome.” I had never actually heard the term until the second day of my Data Science cohort. It was brought up in conversation in which the instructor asked, “What do YOU need to be successful?”. Of course, people gave the usual answers of clear expectations, minimal distractions, patience, constructive feedback, and COFFEE. I responded with “willingness to fail, but learn.” But the response that gained the most attention and generated the most discussion was “limiting imposter syndrome.” This response immediately caught on with people chiming in on this, but what is imposter syndrome? To be honest, my immediate thought was, “oh wow, they are on the lookout for people trying to fake their way through this, or fake it til you make it.” I soon found out this was nowhere near correct.
According to an article published on the American Psychology Association website, those who experience Imposter Syndrome often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud. During the discussion on that day in class, I heard many people express their concerns regarding this, and I wasn’t sure how someone could feel this way, let alone multiple people in such a small group. I chalked it up to just a lack of self-confidence.
As I have progressed through the first two weeks of the cohort, I have covered many topics that I had previously reviewed in the past few months in preparation. While reviewing these materials and completing the labs & quizzes associated with these topics, I felt pretty confident in my knowledge and abilities. I was able to assist other people along the way. I was even confident enough to reach out to others when I reached a point that I needed to talk something out to make sure things worked.
This trend continued into the second week. During our second we week began to venture into areas I was not as familiar. These topics may be considered basic by people in the field (or not), but to me, they were utterly foreign, and I had never experienced them. We began to cover topics, including performing data analysis and visualization using Python. At the same time that I was learning the new materials, I worked on a project assigned to us to incorporate all of the content being covered. During the week, I found myself going between confident and questioning my abilities.
It was a nerve-racking week. While I was struggling to get through the project, at the same time, I was able to continue helping others. While asking people for help and working out problems with other people, I felt a sense of pride in accomplishing each of the tasks. However, at the same time, I began to question whether I knew what was going on and what I was doing. I struggled with the assignment and honestly didn’t complete it until about an hour before the deadline. I continued to question my abilities over the next few days.
It was only when other people pointed out that I was doing good, and it seemed like I understood the materials that I began to feel comfortable again. However, as soon as I began to work on new content, the feelings crept back. At this point, I am working on labs due at the end of the second week, and I have confidently applied my knowledge to complete tasks that I didn’t even know existed at the beginning of the week. Still, I wonder, do I really know this, do I really understand it.
I have never experienced this in a work or education environment before; it is entirely foreign to me. It’s an exciting and different obstacle to overcome because it is completely fictional, not based on reality. It makes me recall a couple of mantras that I learned ten years ago that is relevant now more than ever.
- Feelings aren’t Facts; Facts are Facts
- Facts don’t care about my Feelings
Keeping these two things in mind helps to remember that just because I may feel a certain way doesn’t mean that it is fact-based. The FACT is that I do know what I am doing, as evidenced by my ability to complete the assignments given. The FACT is that I do make sense when I try to explain things, as evidenced by my ability to work with others in guiding them to their solutions. The FACT is that I will get this, as evidenced by my ability to reach out to others and explain to them exactly what I am doing and exactly where my point of assistance needed is in the problem. This statement is not over-confidence; it is simply a fact. The real imposter is Imposter Syndrome.