Ziemann: I have impostor syndrome

Impostor Syndrome can be the sense that one doesn’t feel like they belong in a certain area of life, such as a community, academic program or career. 

Megan Ziemann

I’ll say it like we’re sitting in group therapy — My name is Megan Ziemann, I’m a senior preparing to graduate magna cum laude with honors this December and I have impostor syndrome.

Impostor syndrome is related to perfectionism. People who struggle with impostor syndrome believe they don’t deserve their achievements. They feel like they’re not as intelligent, competent or as good as others in their field. They worry that, someday, their peers will finally figure out the truth: that they — that I — don’t belong.

I wasn’t able to put a name to what I was feeling until my sophomore year of college, but my impostor syndrome had been existing long before then. 

In high school, I questioned my placement in AP classes because I thought my test scores weren’t high enough. 

The summer before I entered college, I doubted whether I would make the cut into the ISU Freshman Honors Program because I thought my application essays were subpar. 

During my four years at Iowa State, I have genuinely thought I would not get every job and internship I applied for because, deep down, I knew I was unqualified.

The worst part of impostor syndrome is that it’s so hard to write about. Another huge part of impostor syndrome is that people who struggle with it actually do have the knowledge and worth they think they lack. They deserve all their successes.

And writing about my accomplishments makes me feel like I’m bragging.

There’s a systemic reason people like me have impostor syndrome. It’s patriarchy.

Cisgender men are told practically from birth they are destined to be at the top. Boys are encouraged to speak more at school. Boys’ sports are team-oriented and depend on a mix of competition and cooperation. Fathers tend to work outside the home and many boys see their father or father figure as a role model for their own future. 

Cisgender women don’t have that. We’ve made a lot of advancements since the dawn of the feminist movement, but even in 2020 women and men are not equal. The wage gap is not closing. The glass ceiling is as solid as ever. Every day, women like me are told we’re going to have to make a choice: do we pursue a career or do we have a family?

If we choose the career route, we’re shamed for not caring about the next generation. We’re told we’re failing our kids because we take advantage of day care. We’re labeled as cold, bitchy and bossy. We’re accused of “sleeping around” to earn promotions.

If we choose the family route, we’re shamed for buying into the traditional definition of womanhood. We’re told our intelligence is wasted on our children and partners. If we go back to school to start a career later in life, we’re shamed for that, too.

It’s no surprise we don’t believe in ourselves. It’s no surprise impostor syndrome occurs more in women.

Now, let’s not forget that I have a lot of privilege. I’m white, I’m cisgender, I’m heterosexual, I come from a middle class family and I have less student loans than a lot of other people my age. 

Everything I’ve talked about regarding impostor syndrome in cisgender women affects BlPOC, people who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and people from a low income background tenfold. It’s important that we remember our intersections while talking about issues like impostor syndrome. If I were to only talk about cisgender women and our struggles, I would be erasing so many important stories.

To help those stories get told, the Margaret Sloss Center for Women and Gender Equity at Iowa State offers a free Start Smart Salary Negotiation Workshop. I attended the workshop during the Spring 2020 semester, and as soon as I entered the room, I felt validated, secure and empowered.

Impostor syndrome is not your fault and you’re not alone. When we constantly think negatively about ourselves, those thoughts start to feel normal. One of the simplest ways to change that negative mindset is to (and it’s easier said than done) think positively. 

It’s weird to look back on your achievements and praise yourself, but do it! You’re not bragging. You are worth every word of that praise.

Know your worth. It’s more than you think.