Culture of Support

Feeling like you don’t belong here? You are not alone

January 31, 2019 by Brandman University
Donald Scott
Director of Advising Donald Scott, Ed.D.                   

It’s the first day of classes, and you’re looking over the list of students in the class when that awful feeling hits you again: I don’t belong here. They’re all smarter than I am. Why did I think I could do this?

Here’s the surprise. According to Donald Scott, Ed.D., most of the class, including the instructor, may be sharing those thoughts.

It’s called the Impostor Syndrome and college students and faculty members are both susceptible, as are many other people. But as Scott told the listeners to a recent webinar hosted by Brandman Career Development Office, it doesn’t have to inhibit your ability to find success.

“It’s not who you are that holds you back. It’s who you think you’re not,” Scott concludes.

A longtime academic advisor and now the director of advising at Brandman University and a recent graduate of the university’s Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership program, Scott knows what the Imposter Syndrome looks and sounds like. It’s been part of his life, both academically and professionally. He’s seen in students, and he focused his dissertation on it, surveying leaders from a variety of fields.

Imposter Syndrome Cycle“For me, it was always been about being one of those people who has a hard time attributing my success to competence. I struggled with fear of failure whenever I had a new project or a new job,” Scott said. 

He’s not alone. To prove his point, he quotes Tom Hanks (“No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?”), Tina Fey (“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!”), as well as author Maya Angelou and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who each expressed similar sentiments.

Scott developed a passion for the topic while working toward his Ed.D. and wants to help others and inspire them to do the same. 

In the webinar, he provides nine characteristics that are shared by syndrome sufferers, many of which overlap. They are:

  • Anxiety
  • Perfectionism (often expressed by excessive concern about making mistakes)
  • Procrastination (can become a form of self-sabotage) 
  • Self-presentation (using charm, for instance, to seek approval, which can be seen as manipulative)
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Depression

He also presented coping skills and an action plan, summed up by “SLICE”:

  • Select your environment carefully (A reminder to make decisions based on what is a good fit for you.)
  • Live your values (Recognize and review your values to make sure your decisions support them.)
  • Influence others (Use what you know about the syndrome to help others cope.)
  • Control your thoughts (Trust your instincts and build a clear set of expectations.)
  • Encourage your own exploration

The first step on that exploration is seeing where you are on the Impostor Syndrome scale, he said. Information and the actual test are available here. Understanding the syndrome is the first step to coping, Scott said.

Scott offers specific ways of coping with the many syndrome characteristics in the webinar, using samples from the survey he conducted.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone and that it can take time to overcome. As one of the webinar listeners wrote to Scott, “I was accepted into the honors college for business and I can clearly recollect my first session of honors economics and management classes, and feeling like I didn’t belong there … It took several semesters before I was fully accepting that I was not just doing well in school by luck but that my hard work and abilities were on par with my peers.”

Scott also urges faculty members to be aware of what adult learners might be going through and support them. “It’s not so much about hearing, ‘You’ll be great,’ but reassurance about how to cope,” he said. “Always be sensitive to people who are expressing those feelings.”


The next Career Services webinar will be at noon PST on Feb. 12 and explores "The Power of Getting Along." RSVP and info: https://power-of-getting-along.eventbrite.com

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