“You Are Built For This”: Countering Imposter Syndrome

Getting into a doctoral program was the most exciting part of my educational journey because there was a time when I felt that it was an unobtainable goal. After all, I was kicked out of school due to poor grades, and the president of the institution told me I wasn’t “college material” and that I should pick up a trade.Although potentially quite lucrative, picking up a trade would not have worked for me because nothing in trade school reflected my passion. I wanted to work in a field where I could make a difference in the lives of our youth with a specific focus on African American students who looked like me. I wanted to work with the ones that people passed off because they were “rough” and “not scholars”. I had a particular passion for the ones who came from neighborhoods like mine where the odds were against them before they were even given a chance to show what they’re made of. It’s my mission to change the narrative.

For as long as I could remember, I have always wanted to work in a field where I could make a difference in the lives of our youth–a goal that has a specific focus on African American students who looked like me. I wanted to work with the students that people passed off because they were “rough” or not seen as “scholars”. I have a particular passion, you see, for the students who come from neighborhoods like mine where the odds are stacked against them well before they were even given a chance to show the world what they’re made of. It’s my mission to change the narrative. 

I consider it my mission to change the narrative around these students because I am one.  

Wasalu Jaco and I attended the same high school:  Thornton Township High School in Harvey, IL. One of my favorite quotes he ever spoke was, “This ain’t a pen, it’s paintbrush and I intend to rearrange how they paint us”.  Perhaps you know Wasalu Jaco better by his stage name “Lupe Fiacso”, but when he penned those very lyrics, they resonated with me and have since become my mantra. 

So, I started my first week of school. I remember being so happy and excited to be on the road to Dr. Randolph, but as the weeks rolled by, I began to question if I was supposed to be there. I didn’t understand some of the words my classmates spoke, and I would, at times, ask for words to be repeated so I could write them down and look them up. The papers and writing expectations have grown longer, and there have been many times I have run out of words before reaching the page minimum.  As I have moved closer to doctoral completion, I have found myself questioning if I was built for this and began feeling like an imposter. Never mind the application process, interviews, writing sample and everything it took to get to this point; I felt I wasn’t worthy. 

So, how am I overcoming these feelings?  How can you if/when you find yourself faced with feelings like mine?

  1. Remind yourself that you are built for this. You’ve played a role in your success and there’s no way you could’ve made it this far by being an imposter.
  2. Lean on your friends, family, students, etc. There’s something energizing about how proud loved ones are of you.  My grandfather (called Hot Poppie, not Grandfather), to this day, answers the phone saying “Dr. Randolph!” whenever I talk to him, and it gives me a surge of excitement to hear how proud he is. He tells people “We have a Dr. in the family.” Loved ones (by blood or bond) will be your cheerleaders, accountability partners, and at times, will know when you need to just talk.
  3. Ask yourself what is making you feel like an imposter and write it down. There are always things we could work on to be better. For me, I noticed that I felt like an imposter because I wasn’t completing my assignments early and I had struggles. I faced it and asked members in my cohort for help and tips. Sometimes simply writing things out and taking action, if needed, can make self doubt disappear.
  4. I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again, your journey is YOURS and YOURS alone! It’s so easy to be in class and start comparing yourself to the person who knocked out that 30 page paper with ease and, in turn, it makes you feel you should be done too.  Focus on you, and stay on the path to your own journey to Dr.(insert name).

Overcoming imposter syndrome is a lifelong journey–in those moments where you feel alone, remember you have me and the rest of the Cite A Sista family in your corner. Happy fall 2017 graduate students, this year is yours for the taking!

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