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Asserting Yourself as a Subject Matter Expert: Why I No Longer Believe in the Impostor Syndrome

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

“But what if I fail?”

A few years ago, I jumped on the Impostor Syndrome bandwagon, wrote a blog article about looking yourself in the mirror and saying, “I believe in me!” But I’ve recently changed my mind that the idea of the Impostor Syndrome, the belief that you are not the real deal, is another excuse to blame others rather than actually accomplishing all you should.

We tell ourselves stories. We aren’t good enough or that we’ll never make it. We look in the mirror and wonder, when will it be my time? Here’s the good news, you’re already there. No one on Earth has had the same experiences you’ve had—and that’s why you aren’t an impostor. You are the subject matter expert on the sum of your experiences.

In 1998, with only an undergrad degree, I accepted a position as a “emergency” literature professor for a college on a military base. As I entered the classroom, I noticed the varied ages of students. Some soon ready to retire from their military careers and some fresh out of high school.

“What if I fail,” I repeated the question to my mom the night before.

“You won’t. And,” she added, “as long as you stay one week ahead of your students, you’ll always be a week ahead.”

This logic assuaged my fears but didn’t take away my worry that I was an impostor.

My first day in the classroom invigorated me. I realized that I could have daring conversations about literature with my students and leave confident in my knowledge that I was an expert. I learned that one of my students had spent his time during Desert Storm as a base librarian and had read hundreds of books. Another was a general’s aid and responsible for a variety of international communications with world leaders. A third was a tank mechanic. I engaged my students with lessons on literature and writing, and they regaled me with interesting stories from their own fields of expertise.

Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live once said, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.” There should always be the desire for growth and a willingness to learn. The impostor syndrome is born when we feed doubt to our ego.

Instead, have confidence in knowing that you are the best you the world will ever meet. The next time you feel like an impostor, just look in the mirror because you will be the one smiling back. And that, my friends, is the real deal.

Authentically You

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