Award-winning author, expert explores imposter syndrome in students

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Awardwinning author and internationally known expert Valerie Young explained how to overcome imposter syndrome on Tuesday, Nov. 5, through a virtual presentation to Marshall University students, staff and faculty. 

Young’s publication The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, offers information for both women and men who experience the imposter phenomenon and has allowed her to speak to over 100 universities and several companies such as Google, Facebook and NASA.  

“Imposter syndrome is this unconscious belief that deep down we are really not as intelligent, capable, qualified, talented as other people seem to think that we are,” Young said. “We minimize our accomplishments by attributing them to factors outside of outside.” Young used examples of luck, simplicity, connections, personality or a “diversity pick.” 

As a first-generation student, Young said she did not become aware of imposter syndrome until she experienced the condition as a graduate student. 

“These feelings lead to behaviors and these behaviors have consequencesnot just to you, but to the university,” Young said. “When you feel like an imposter you need to learn to manage the anxiety of waiting to find out.” 

Marshall University GEAR Up Director Jennifer Henning said she noticed a lot of students who felt like they were experiencing the imposter syndrome when she was planning to do this presentation with Young. Henning emphasized that she noticed these students were mostly first-generation college students or from a working-class family. 

“I understand how scary it can be, how overwhelming and isolating it can feel. It is ok to stumble through the process a little bit to get where it is you want to go,” Henning said.  

In previous presentations, Young provided 10 different ways to overcome the syndrome, but because there is “no magic answer,” she decided to limit her presentation to three recommendations. Young said her audience would come up to her after presentations and ask for more options because “they expected to walk in the door feeling like an imposter, but leave not feeling like an imposter,” but she said feelings are the last to change.  

Throughout the Marshall presentation, Young said victims of imposter syndrome need to normalize their feelings, to reframe their thoughts and to keep going.  

“You have to keep going regardless how confident you feel. We talk about fear of failure, but I think the biggest fear is success because they expect us to do it again,” Young said. 

Xena Bunton can be contacted at [email protected]