Impostor Syndrome and Self Fulfilling Prophecy

The very first day of classes down river in Bellingham, our professor Kate Darby started off by stating "Impostor syndrome is a serious mindset that people often have not only in grad school, but in many aspects of their lives. If you are ever feeling like you don't belong here, you are wrong."

If you have never heard of impostor syndrome, Wikipedia describes it as

The Impostor phenomenon is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

Even if the person is receiving external praise, an individual can think of themselves as a fraud.

Take me, for instance. I would consider myself extraordinarily privileged and well-off. Job at the Science Center, own apartment, two degrees. I also have the support of friends and family on and near both coasts. Also judging by this recent picture of me (on the right), you could assume that I have no worries.


But when I look in the mirror, I don't see a successful, skilled person for every aspect of my life. What I see is someone who has no idea what is going on most of the time much like I was as a child. Except this time, I have many responsibilities and people that depend on me.


I can already hear some of your thoughts. "Ben, you are the most confident person I know. I call BS on you thinking you have impostor syndrome."

Which is fair. I often times even call myself the most confident person I know. But that only came around the end of high school when I started to lie, A LOT. It started at Lutherlyn, where I hated everything about camp. Singing, interacting with other people, and especially the outdoors. My dad had signed me up to work grounds crew, and I didn't feel like I could say no.

After the first few weeks, I started to have people ask me "Ben do you wanna lead Mighty Mighty?" No, was always the first thought in my mind since I hated singing and especially hated to be around people. But I would lie to them and say "Sure, I can do that!" And after doing it, it wasn't too bad.

Over the years I kept lying and lying, stating things like "I love going outside!" and "I love hanging out with people!" It got to the point where I was in school, out west, to teach people how to connect with the outdoors.

Often times when you hear of a self fulfilling prophecy, it is in a negative connotation. But that same power, of consistent reinforcement, can be used to overcome impostor syndrome. If I had just done what I believed I could do; I would be a completely different person. Someone who is more cautious, unwilling to take risks.


My most recent bout with impostor syndrome has been with cycling. I never saw myself as a cyclist (especially since I didn't know how to ride until 11th grade). But upon moving to Millvale, I realized that I could cycle to work upon the river trail.

So when my mother asked "Do you know what you are doing?" I lied and stated "Of course!" But I kept lying and lying, while also getting lights and building a stand. "A cyclist needs lights to stay safe on the road, so I should get those." I kept telling myself I'm a cyclist, even though I didn't believe it. Now, people at the Science Center ask "how long have you been cycling?" implying that I'm a cyclist. In my head, I don't see myself as one but I lie to others and keep going.

The hardest part comes when actually riding on the trail. To have about a dozen people pass me in a 45 minute ride is humiliating. I am incredibly slow, and many times I have thought "I shouldn't be here, I'm not a cyclist like those people." But I keep lying and saying "You are on a bike, riding to work. Therefore, you are a cyclist."

There are so many other factors that I didn't go into detail (like ability to research, financial stability, time to succeed, etc). But I write this because so many people I know suffer from this syndrome as well.

Do you want to pick up art? Start calling yourself an artist and slowly devote time each week to your craft.

Do you want to start rock climbing? Look up intro rock climbing places where you can practice and get some discount gear (or better yet borrow some from a friend).

Whatever you want to be, just start lying to yourself and others, over and over again, to fulfill your own prophecy.