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Unmasking Imposter Syndrome: A Journey To Self-Belief

Imposter Syndrome
August 10, 2023

By Kisha German, 2023 Social Connectedness Fellow

For many of us, mathematics is a daunting subject shrouded in memories of frustration, stress and incorrect algebraic equations. However, for some of us, the thrill of solving a challenging math problem ignites a rush of excitement and sparks a thought-provoking endeavor. Mathematics demands precision and logical thinking, giving rise to moments of both triumph and defeat. As someone who holds a degree in Mathematical Sciences from the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (MUBAS), you would think I’d have comfortably conquered every mathematical puzzle thrown my way. However, that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

Picture this: a little girl fueled by determination and hard work but always doubtful of her abilities in sciences, especially mathematics. One memory stands out vividly in my mind – that of my math tutor. Their stern expression and constant chastisement for minor mistakes while tackling mathematical problems. The frustration, stress, and the persistent battle with the fundamentals of algebra seemed to be never-ending. Even during my high school days, I deliberately shifted my energy on subjects other than math, as I couldn’t envision myself excelling in it or pursuing it later in life. Ironically, my family was filled with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) graduates, including engineers and doctors, which added further pressure on me to prove myself and fit in, compelling me towards a STEM path in search of validation.

Which brings me here today, the chance to open up about something that I have come to believe many of us have faced at some point in our lives: Imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome has become a recurring theme in my life especially during and after my undergraduate graduation.

You might be wondering, “Kisha, how can you conclude that most of us face imposter syndrome?” Well, beyond the term being a pop-culture narrative with phrases like “I feel like a fraud or phony”. I recently had a conversation with my cousin, who just earned her degree and is now pursuing a postgraduate degree. During our chat, she opened up about feeling like an imposter in her field, doubting herself and constantly questioning her worthiness for future opportunities. As I listened to her, I couldn’t help but empathize deeply, for I too find myself grappling with similar feelings in my current “recent graduate” stage of life. Navigating a career in the health space without prior experience has left me vulnerable to the clutches of imposter syndrome.

It became apparent that these feelings of curiosity, performance, doubt, and success wasn’t regulated just to me. It struck me that even the person sitting next to me on a bus ride might be experiencing their own world of doubt. This realization sparked my journey this year to understand imposter syndrome— which is an all-too-common social phenomenon that silently affects the lives of countless individuals like you and me. 

Imposter syndrome can be particularly daunting especially for those starting their careers, just like me. It’s easy to feel like you don’t belong or that your achievements are merely a stroke of luck.The purpose of this blog is simple – to share my personal journey with imposter syndrome and offer practical steps that have helped me overcome it. I hope my experiences resonate with some of you and provide a sense of solidarity knowing that you’re not alone in this struggle.

So…what exactly is “Imposter Syndrome”?

It can loosely be defined as the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and “not belonging” despite having substantial evidence of being competent and worthy of being part of a particular field or community. The origins of imposter syndrome can be traced down to the famous Pauline Clance who developed the concept of the impostor phenomenon, now commonly known as impostor syndrome. Clance and her colleague Suzanne Imes conducted research on over 150 “successful” women and published a paper titled “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.”

The paper which revealed that women persistently believe they are not intelligent and have merely fooled others into thinking otherwise. Some contributing factors include early family dynamics and societal sex-role stereotypes that influence their self-perception. The study further explained how women tend to attribute their successes to temporary factors like luck or effort, further reinforcing their impostor feelings.

The next question I had about imposter syndrome is “why did I feel like a fraud?Research reveals that imposter syndrome can affect anyone, but it tends to be more prevalent among individuals who have limited representation in professional settings. Women and people of colour are more likely to experience imposter syndrome as they do not have a lot of representation in their respective professions.  During my college years, the lack of representation for relatable role models in my field who shared the same experiences as mine contributed to my imposter syndrome. This absence of visibility, inclusivity, and diversity amplified my feelings of not belonging and fueled my fear for the future.

I wondered “what could be the possible causes of how I was feeling?” Further research reveals that one could be having imposter syndrome because you grew up in a family that stressed achievement and success. Parental emphasis on achievement, combined with societal pressure to succeed can increase imposter syndrome effects. Specifically, parenting styles characterized by being controlling or overprotective may contribute to the development of imposter syndrome in children and persisting into adulthood. The other causes would simply be entering a new work or school opportunity and the fear of being found out or cast out. Finally some causes could be cultural norms and societal standards often dictate certain benchmarks of success, leaving individuals feeling inadequate if they fall short of these expectations. 

I tackled imposter syndrome by finding joy in volunteering, especially with organizations that advanced women’s rights, maternal health and amplified the voices of young people in education. I also leveraged on having a strong support system of family and friends who affirmed me through my journey. Their encouragement provided a much-needed boost, helping me navigate through the challenges posed by imposter syndrome. This support made me believe that I was no longer in the shackles of imposter syndrome after my graduation. I believed that I brought Imposter syndrome to its knees and was ready to impact the world through a STEM career.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend 

Imposter syndrome made a strong comeback after my graduation. Despite my achievement in attaining a STEM degree, the feeling of not belonging and feeling inadequate professionally returned in full force.The countless rejections from job applications and interviews fueled my self-doubt, leading me back into the imposter syndrome rabbit hole once again.

I began asking myself the usual questions that young graduates ask: “do I have enough experience?”, “am I good enough?”, “should I consider a different professional path?”. Questions that Author Michelle Obama asked herself in her book Becoming. She emphasizes that one of the main barriers she has faced – and still tackles – is imposter syndrome, which she described as “feeling like I don’t belong”.


These infamous questions placed me face to face with my old friend, imposter syndrome. Unmasking its grip on me was no easy task, and while I don’t have a definitive cure for it, but through my journey, I’ve learned several strategies that I hope you’ll find valuable;

  1. Acknowledging my feelings: I discovered that opening up and sharing my imposter feelings with a trusted friend or mentor not only helped me feel less overwhelmed but also created a space for them to do the same. A professor by the name Professor Graham Gibbs published his Reflective Cycle in his 1988 book “Learning by Doing.” It was particularly useful for helping people learn from situations that they experience regularly, especially when these don’t go well. Embracing this reflective approach empowered me to acknowledge the validity of my emotions and confront them directly. The reflective approach to grappling with my feelings made me realize my feelings are valid and need to be dealt with head on .
  1. Build my connections: Author Kim Samuel wrote “When we are a part of true belonging, the boundaries of our limited sense of self expand to encompass others”. Looking back at it, my cousin sharing her experience with imposter syndrome was one way she dealt with it and it ended up helping me with mine. The Anatomy of Work Global Index insights show imposter syndrome is widespread in the workplace (62% of knowledge workers). Highlighting that to overcome imposter syndrome one can share their feelings with someone the trust. This helps one confront and recognize the emotions while realizing that others have experienced it too.
  2. Challenged my doubts: when imposter feelings arise, I pause and reflect. I ask myself if there are any tangible facts that support these beliefs. Then, deliberately seek out evidence that contradicts those feelings, empowering myself with counteracting proof.While this last step of my overcoming Imposter syndrome may sound daunting, it really can get better when it’s approached with curiosity, compassion, and objectivity rather than avoidance. 

By acknowledging my feelings, building connections, and challenging my  doubts,  I get to unmask the imposter within me and embark on a path of self-belief. 

And now, I extend this gentle call to action to you. Embrace the power of believing in yourself, recognizing that true impact and positive change start from within and radiate outward to shape the world around you. I encourage you to embark on a similar path of self-discovery and empowerment, because deep down, “You do belong.”

PS before you leave: Do you believe you may be experiencing imposter syndrome?

Let’s see if any of these patterns of thought and behavior strike a familiar chord with you. Take a moment to reflect and see if you recognize yourself in any of them.

  1. Do you feel your work must always be perfect no matter the price? (The Perfectionist)
  2. Are you always the Last One Standing in the Office to get work when everyone has left? (SuperWomen/Man)
  3. Do you feel uneasy or uncomfortable when others have the opportunity to see your work while it’s still in progress? (The Soloist)
  4. Does being called an expert make you feel shaky and restless? (The Expert)
  5. Are You Rejecting Work That You’re Not Good at or That Seems Challenging? (The Natural Genius)
  6. Is it challenging for you to accept compliments and celebrate accomplishments? (The Noticer)


Action Psychotherapy. n.d. “Coping with Imposter Syndrome.” Action Psychotherapy. Accessed August 3, 2023.

Asana. 2023. “Anatomy of Work 2023 – Rise of the Connected Enterprise.” Asana.

Biddlecombe, Sarah, and Michelle Obama. n.d. “Michelle Obama on living with imposter syndrome.” Stylist. Accessed August 3, 2023.

Clance, Pauline R., and Suzanne Imes. n.d. “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice 15 (3).

Heslop, Gabriela, Juliana B. Velez, Erynne A. Faucett, and Cristina C. Muffly. 2023. “Understanding and Overcoming the Psychological Barriers to Diversity: Imposter Syndrome and Stereotype Threat | Request PDF.” ResearchGate.

Mind Tools. n.d. “Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle – Helping People Learn From Experience.” Mind Tools. Accessed August 3, 2023.

Psychology Today. n.d. “Understanding Imposter Syndrome.” Psychology Today. Accessed June 19, 2023.

Saripalli, Vara, and Crystal Raypole. 2021. “Imposter Syndrome: What It Is & How to Overcome It.” Healthline.

Saymeh, Amal. n.d. “What Is Imposter Syndrome? Learn What it is and 10 Ways to Cope.” BetterUp. Accessed June 19, 2023.

Cover Image by David Muleme, Freepik