How to: deal with imposter syndrome as a 20-something

Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern of feeling self doubt, the sense you don’t deserve to be somewhere – despite your own achievements or success.

Maybe it’s in a new job, with a group of friends who you don’t quite fit in with, or maybe it’s in your academic studies.

To counter these feelings, you may find yourself overcompensating for fear you are not enough, eventually burning yourself out.

Sound familiar? You are not alone.

We’ve spoken to two of our Messy readers, here to share their experience with imposter syndrome.

Jenny, 21, from York, first recalled the feeling of imposter syndrome on her very first day of University, despite achieving an impressive three A*s at A-level to study Mechanical Engineering.

”Moving from sixth form to uni was a shock, there is so many men on my degree who aren’t self doubting themselves and are so confident”, Jenny said.

”On one occasion, I was working on a group project quiz. We managed to get 100%, but I frequently remember feeling like I didn’t deserve my mark.

I feel like the men I’m around say, ‘oh well, it was hard’, not ‘oh I’m stupid’. They don’t tend to blame themselves, they blame the difficulty of the work we have to do”, she said

”There’s a degree of confidence and self assurance, they don’t consistently question their work in group projects, whereas I do”, says Jenny.

Jenny found herself dismissing the success of her final year at University to her supervisor, telling him it was only because of grade inflation that she had achieved her results.

Ellie, 21, from Birmingham, similarly takes a STEM degree and frequently feels out of place to her peers.

”I went from a public to a grammar school when I went to sixth form, and I definitely felt imposter syndrome. I felt like people at the grammar school I went to were so naturally full of themself”, she says.

”Moving to Uni, first year was the worst by far. I felt as if I was the only person struggling and that everyone found it fine. But then, I do feel bad for receiving extra opportunities because I’m a woman too.”

Ellie recalled one time she was doodling on a notepad in a lecture, because she often struggles to concentrate. Minutes later, one of the guys in the lecture sitting behind her had posted a message on a course group chat.

It said ‘women come to lectures to doodle flowers, #womeninstem.’

It’s unsurprising, by this ignorant remark, that imposter syndrome is frequently seen as an often gendered issue.

Coaching platform, BetterUp says that surface level diversity amplifies feelings of isolation and self doubt, associated with imposter syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome: Definition, Symptoms & Tips to Overcome It (

Some key traits of imposter syndrome:

  • Being overly critical at your smallest mistakes or flaws, in social settings or the workplace’
  • Frequently ‘blaming’ your success as luck, or other factors
  • Feeling like you are going to be ‘exposed’ and uncovered as not knowing as much as your peers, or belonging.
  • Downplaying your own expertise, even in areas where you have genuine skill, experience or understanding.

But how do we more forward? Lets hear from the experts:

Jon Morgan, CEO of Venture Smarter, gave us his intel

”If you find yourself struggling with imposter syndrome, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone. High achievers, from CEOs to recent graduates, have all felt this at some point in their careers”, he says.

Here are some of Jon’s top tips’

-Keep a record of your accomplishments. Regularly documenting your achievements, positive feedback, and successful projects can serve as a tangible reminder of your capabilities and progress. This practice not only provides a confidence boost when imposter feelings arise but also offers a clearer perspective on your professional journey.

-Seek out and foster a support network. Engage with mentors, peers, or professional groups where you can share your experiences. These relationships can offer affirmation, constructive feedback, and a sense of belonging, all of which are essential in combating feelings of inadequacy.

-Self-compassion is also key. Often, individuals with imposter syndrome set exceptionally high standards for themselves and are overly critical when they fall short. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. 

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