Impostor syndrome

I first learned of the term impostor syndrome a few months back. I knew the feeling well, but didn’t realize that it had a name.

By all intents and purposes, I am a high-achieving and successful individual. I have always been intelligent and creative. I am an Ivy League graduate. I am an academic and a doctor – a dermatologist at that, which is one of the most difficult specialties to match into. I am a critical and analytical thinker, and I am fortunate to be able to do what I love due to financial stability. I feel very blessed, and yet have always also felt like I somehow didn’t deserve this. Along almost every step of my professional training, I have doubted myself. Where does this come from and why do so many people experience this?

One of my mentors said something very important to me when I first started as an attending “If you market yourself as an expert in field X, everyone will come to see you as an expert in that field.” In sum, fake it until you make it. This shouldn’t be interpreted as marketing yourself with false credentials. Instead, it represents having the confidence to see yourself as a thought leader. It also represents crediting yourself for hard work. If you see patients with a certain diagnosis more than other doctors, and if you are actively researching and breaking new ground as to what ails them, then you are absolutely an expert in that field – and you should own that title, not shy away from it.

I have been thinking about this more recently for a few reasons:

  1. I have now been out of residency for >2 years, and I am starting to realize just how much I know within my given field.
  2. Donald Trump, someone with no political experience, just won the highest political office in our country, and arguably in the world. It obviously helps to be a rich (white) guy’s son, but we should all have this level of confidence in ourselves.
  3. Every day, I see people with no actual knowledge of dermatology release books, launch blogs, start Instagram accounts, advertise courses, and even open CLINICS that are skin-focused. It boggles my mind. Here I am abstaining from doing some of these things because I’m worried that I won’t get it 100% right, and other people are out there just doing it, not at all worried that they lack the credentials.

I think many of us can agree that 2016 was a rough year. But if there’s one lesson I’ve learned this year, it’s that a little bit of swagger goes a long way. If you don’t believe in yourself 100%, no one else will. So fake it until you make it in 2017, and push self-doubt and perfectionism aside.

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