Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
September 20, 2019
As a latinx, first-generation graduate student, womxn of color, there are moments of self-doubt that lead me to believe that I am an imposter. Being a double Trojan at USC has allowed me to see a shift in perspective from the transition of undergraduate to graduate student life. During my senior year of undergrad, I learned about Occupational Therapy through an elective course. I immediately was drawn to the field as I began to understand how occupational therapists can redesign the life of an individual, in order to support them with doing the things they want and need to do. My ideal profession of being a medical doctor completely changed as I fell in love with the profession of OT. With this career change, I began to have an inner dialog that impacted my confidence about whether I would be a good OT, whether I would be accepted into a competitive master’s program, and if I was making the right career move. It was evident that my undergraduate peers had been preparing to be an occupational therapist way longer than I did and it definitely took a mental, physical, and emotional toll on me. So with all that being said, let me tell you what helped me overcome imposter syndrome:
Sharing my insecurity with my village
Vulnerability is not something that comes easy to me, but overtime I’ve learned about the importance of speaking up and sharing what is truly going on in my mind. My awareness of imposter feelings emerged over the summer intensive program, while I began to get connected to peers and understood their educational training. Immediately, the negative self talk of “I am not as prepared” or “Is this really going to be a good summer” or “I am smart enough,” thoughts began to creep in. However, I chose to take a leap of faith and shared with my peers that I was struggling in certain areas. This transparency truly set the stage for our friend group and even though we were divided into different academic cohorts, I know that they played a pivotal role in recognizing my worth as a student in the masters program. Simultaneously, I had the support of high school friends that always seemed to know when I was having moments of self-doubt. My high school friends just knew how to make me laugh and reminded me to find the joy in my failures and feelings of inadequacy. Time and time again, I realize that speaking to my village provides me with reminders of my purpose and why I chose OT. For example, over summer 2019 I had the opportunity to present a case study at my fieldwork site. Dr. McIntyre, Rachel, and I advocated for OT and the need of continued services for the population that was being served. My why became even more clear after that presentation.
Reframing my mindset
Beginning to reprogram my mindset about certain feelings set the stage for healthier growth not only as a student, but also personally and professionally. Here are some statements that I needed to reframe:
- I don’t have all the answers → I don’t need to know all the answers
- I am a failure → Failure is a learning opportunity
- Should I be here? → I need to be here because my community needs me
- I feel useless right now → The fact that I feel useless, does not mean that I am useless
Truthfully, it comes down to being kind about the inner dialog we have as individuals. I am unable to pour from an empty cup, so I need to continue to engage in positive self-talk, while I also lift up my academic community and clients in each setting that have the privilege to be at. We never know what someone is going through, whether that be a professor, classmate, or client, but supporting someone as they reframe their mindset is life giving.
The big picture
There is only one YOU. We each have been cultivating talents that no one else has, so understanding that and truly believing it often is the hardest part. However, when I am studying for long hours of the night and feeling overwhelmed, I find a sticky note or sheet of paper and write 3 reasons why I am grateful to be in this season of life as a student. I am not alone in this journey of self-discovery with OT and neither are you. In the end, I have learned that the impossible is in fact possible if I stay prepared and believe that it can be done. So whether you are a prospective student applying to the bachelors/master’s program, a current student interested in obtaining your OTD or PhD, or just a reader curious about OT, have the courage to pursue your dream and know that the big picture can be possible.