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Imposter syndrome (n): A false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill.
From the day I first heard the term, I instantly felt a connection. I was constantly fearful that I wasn’t deserving of my successes and didn’t actually know what I was doing. As a bisexual woman in computer science, I felt very alone and without role models. In such a technically complex field, it’s easy to feel imposter syndrome. I still struggle with feeling welcome and good enough, but I’ve found three mantras to help me on my journey.
1. Stop Comparing Yourself
I know it sounds clichè, and I know it’s easier said than done, but comparison only hurts and it’s never accurate. Of course it’s not fair to measure myself against people who have been coding for longer or have different passions than me. There is value in looking at other people’s paths for ideas or inspiration, but thinking less of yourself because you haven’t achieved as much as someone else isn’t fair. When basing your self-worth off the perception of other people’s successes, you will always come up short.
2. Find and Pursue Your Unique Passions
It’s easier to avoid comparison when you focus on yourself and developing what you love. Having a positive motivation rather than catching up to others increases your happiness and gives you skills true to your unique identity. Life got a lot easier for me when I realized that computer science was an extremely diverse field. It’s normal that some people are better at different subfields — they love and pursue them more than I do. When I started doing competitive programming, I realized my passion was at the intersection of math and algorithms. Focusing my energy on what I loved and watching myself grow has been the most rewarding part of my college career so far.
3. Measure Against Yourself
Self-reflection can be a scary process, but it’s key to stop focusing on others’ success. Setting specific and achievable goals for yourself can build confidence and a sense of pride in your accomplishments, combating the insecurity of imposter syndrome. Any external yardstick doesn’t account for the different life challenges and backgrounds, but looking internally at improvement and growth proves your competence. When you have bad days, taking into account your holistic health and giving yourself grace can help you rebound because we’re all human.
Imposter syndrome can be hard to shake, but you can’t let it prevent you from pursuing opportunities. By ending comparisons, focusing on your unique perspective and skills, and measuring success on your own yardstick, you can feel more at home and powerfully competent in computer science or any other major.
Computer Science and Mathematics
If you found this blog post interesting, you may consider reading “A Few of My Cheerleaders” and “Significance of a Mentor.”