Imposter syndrome was first identified in the 1970s. It is generally thought to be a collection of feelings of inadequacy about one’s competence that persist despite high achievements. It is common for some high achievers to fear that they are going to be “found out” as frauds and who feel as though they are not deserving of their success.
At its core, imposter syndrome is not believing the truth about one’s own abilities. It involves a discrepancy between the truth about your accomplishments and how you feel about your accomplishments. Your feelings should be in line with the truth.
Objectively, by all measures, you are a success. When you truly understand the truth, your feelings of inadequacy, your imposter syndrome, should dissipate.
Another illogical line of thinking is that you have to try harder than other people to be successful. Just because you perceive it that way doesn’t make it accurate. The only way to accurately compare yourself to your medical school peers, would be survey them about the number of hours they study and what kind of grades they receive. Without that objective information, you are guessing. And as with any survey, we have to understand that many people lie on surveys to make themselves look better, even though the survey may be anonymous.
The objective information that you do have would suggest that your study habits are superior to your peers. They study less than you and don’t do as well as you. Your efforts seemed to have paid off, resulting in your being in the top 25% of your class.
If you worked extra hard, compared to your peers, and wound up in the bottom 25% of your class, that would suggest something was wrong. But that’s not the case. You did extra work and it paid off.
Being in the top 25% of your class, excelling in school, and so forth, all require hard work. The more time you put into achieving your goals, the better you will do. That is as true for you as it is for anyone else. If you spent less time studying, then you would not do as well.
At the core of your thinking is the idea that you are not as intelligent as other people because you don’t seem to have some innate ability that you perceive other people as having. The skills learned in medical school are not innate. Everyone who wants to be a doctor has to go to medical school.
There is a myth that individuals who are good at something are born with certain talents but closer inspection shows that preparation and practice have much more to do with one’s success than an innate talent. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this very topic in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success. He found that how hard one works is often the determining factor between who makes it and who doesn’t. “Working really hard is what successful people do.”
It’s important to assess ourselves and our abilities as accurately as possible. That’s what psychologically healthy people do. You must commit yourself to believing in the truth as it is, not how you desire or fear it to be. It would be the best way to eliminate the discrepancy between your success and how you feel about your success.
If this continues to be a problem, consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is especially effective at targeting and correcting illogical self-perceptions. You might also try reading about imposter syndrome, particularly among medical school students. It seems to be that because medical school is highly competitive, anxiety about one’s abilities is common.
I would also like to add that you mention your musical talent. I would suggest that you become familiar with right brain dominance. Do your friends who are so politically oriented have the same ease of familiarity with the arts? Are they as creative, as sensitive as you?
Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle