I may look confident here, but what you don’t see in this pic is my Impostor Syndrome and what it took for me to get on this stage to give this Welcome address at this conference. I’ll backtrack a bit. I’ll start off by saying that I kind of used to roll my eyes at the term Impostor Syndrome.
I remember a few years ago, someone asked me to join a hashtag campaign about Impostor Syndrome. And, here’s the thing – I really thought that it didn’t apply to me, so I declined. I felt like I was a confident attending in private practice. I have been on Best Doctors Lists since 2010, even gracing the cover. I’ve helped thousands of patients in my clinic and with surgery and have served to mentor many as well. I was secure in the care I delivered to my patients. Impostor Syndrome did not characterize me.
But, I was wrong. I have come to realize how insidious Impostor Syndrome can be and that it can be situational. I was attending a national meeting of pediatric ophthalmologists a few years ago. And, as I sat in the audience, looking at the panel up on stage, it hit me hard. On that panel, leading the session, were several of my colleagues and even former students! And, I felt less than. I have never once regretted leaving my prestigious salaried position in Boston, but when I attend national conference and see all the wonderful things my former mentors, colleagues and students are accomplishing, I feel like I am not achieving enough. Feelings of self-doubt arise.
And, that’s when it hit me, I do suffer from Impostor Syndrome (or Impostor Phenomenon as Dr. Clancy termed it originally in her 1970’s paper). Dr. Clance and and Dr. Imes studied high achieving women and discovered that many seemed unable to internalize and accept their achievements. Instead, the women considered it to be due to luck, timing, any number of reasons that didn’t reflect back on their true success.
I think the path required of us in medicine really brings out a lot of these false beliefs because we are constantly surrounded by other high achievers. Nothing we do seems all that special. I published a paper, but my classmate is lead author on two. You’re constantly measuring yourself against others. One study even found that Impostor Syndrome affects men in medical school, equally as women.
And, here’s the other thing. Dr. Clancy actually categorized Impostor Phenomenon into subtypes.
Only 100% perfection is good enough for these folks. Less = failure
Everything should be effortless. If it requires work, then it means you aren’t smart enough.
To be worthy, you must simultaneously juggle multiple roles. If you fall short in just one, you’re a failure.
You must know EVERYTHING. If you don’t, then you are not worthy.
You must accomplish things on your own. If you require help, then that success is not yours.
I am combo of perfectionist/superwoman. I often set unrealistic expectations of myself and others. I tend to always focus on the things I could do better. This *may* make me a touch difficult to live with. Sound familiar to any of you?
Last December, along with 3 amazing female physicians, I started a conference for women in medicine, called Pinnacle. It was my brain child, my baby. Leading up to the conference, I was filled with doubts. How in the world could I get up in front of others and teach them at a conference I had helped found? What if no one signed up for the conference? What if my talk wasn’t any good? What if I had misjudged attendees’ interest in my topic?
Only perfection was the acceptable outcome. I tended to focus on each aspect that could have been done better. But at the end of the weekend, I read emails/posts/messages, watched videos of conference attendees who were literally crying tears of happiness of how amazing Pinnacle was. And, it hit home. Perfection is overrated.
That’s not to say I never encounter feelings of Impostor Syndrome anymore. I certainly do. I’m a work in progress and as I lead my mentees in exercises on overcoming Impostor Syndrome, I continually strive for the same. Because if we let our feelings of inadequacy limit us, think of all of the lives you are not helping, think of all of the ways you can be serving others, but you aren’t.
This is from our first Pinnacle conference. If I had been paralyzed by the need for perfection, this is how many women I would have not bee able to support.
Perfection is overrated.