“I don’t belong here.” “I'm a fraud!” "I got lucky." Sound familiar?
On paper, it looks like I have it together, and I am living a successful life. I am a registered nurse and a DNP-FNP candidate. I also hold several high-level leadership roles. Yet my imposter syndrome will rear its ugly head often and tell me I am not remotely near the definition of successful. Even as I write this, my mind keeps questioning whether I am the right person to be talking about imposter syndrome among new nurses.
The transition from student nurse to registered nurse is challenging enough without the added stress of constantly wondering whether you are good enough. Even after passing nursing school with honors, surviving the NCLEX-RN (with 75 questions!), and advancing through a rigorous interview and onboarding process, I still questioned whether my hospital really meant to hire me.
Despite my success, I felt like I was fooling everyone—it was only a matter of time before my luck would end, and people would find me out. For a while, I constantly felt unworthy of my achievements. I had this persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud.” I doubted my skills, talents, and accomplishments. It is normal as a new nurse to feel unsure of yourself, your knowledge, and your skills, especially during the first year. However, imposter syndrome is this constant, relentless feeling of never being good enough. And as a result, you live in fear of being “exposed.”
As we progress in life, it can be easy for waves of imposter syndrome to rush in. While I have taken proactive steps to combat these feelings of doubt and insecurity, it still creeps back into my life from time to time, especially when I am new to a role or have taken on different responsibilities. The key is to understand what imposter syndrome is, how it makes you feel, and how to overcome those feelings of fear and self-doubt when they start to creep in.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
As I have learned, you do not always have control over how or when these imposter feelings creep up. But here are some things you can do to manage them better:
- Watch your self-talk
The only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter. Pay attention to your thoughts. Stop telling yourself that your accomplishments are “no big deal” or that you just got “lucky.” There is power in the words you speak to yourself. Positive self-talk can help stop toxic thought cycles and retrain your brain to think affirming thoughts!
- Record your successes
Keep a list of your ongoing accomplishments. When you are feeling down, look back on your list and remember all you did. This helps to internalize your achievements and recognize your strengths.
- Understand the why
Unfortunately, imposter syndrome is particularly prevalent among smart, successful people. And the more you succeed, the worse it becomes. For example, I thought my school accidentally sent me an offer of admission for my DNP. While these feelings of fear and self-doubt are very uncomfortable, take a moment to recognize that what you are experiencing is normal and that you are not alone.
- Learn from your mistakes
Mistakes happen, especially when you are in a new role. Remind yourself that those mistakes are also helping you grow and become more skilled and knowledgeable. Instead of beating yourself up for every mistake, view each mistake as an opportunity for growth, not proof of your incompetence. I remember every mistake I have made and the feelings of fear that followed. But I can confidently say that my mistakes have helped me become a better nurse.
- Take action
If you are struggling with imposter syndrome then you might pass up on great opportunities to advance your career. You might be afraid that you don’t have “what it takes” to climb the ladder. Continue taking action even when you feel scared or doubtful. Pursue your ambitions. You are not a fraud, and your success is well deserved.
- Celebrate yourself
Make sure to celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small the win. Your achievements are proof of your abilities. Celebrating success is a marker of the hard work you have put in. It is a reminder of how truly talented you are. Change your mindset to focus more on successes. Recognize and reward your accomplishments!
- Talk to someone
If you are constantly feeling down or overly anxious, talk to someone. Sharing your thoughts with someone else will make you better equipped to deal with your impostor syndrome. When my fear and self-doubt became crippling, I spoke to my mentor. She had helpful stories and advice for how to deal with what I was feeling.
One of my most favorite quotes is this one from former First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face ... We must do that which we think we cannot." You are not an imposter. It is not luck, timing, or a lie. You deserve it.
Dania Itani Mousa, BSN, RN, is a nurse at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in Long Beach, California, USA, and a DNP-FNP candidate at Loma Linda University. In addition to being a United Nations Youth Representative for Sigma, she is a member of Sigma’s Iota Eta Chapter at California State University and Gamma Alpha Chapter at Loma Linda University.