I earned my Master of Business Administration at Grantham in 2014, but I wanted to study something that would equip me to succeed in my new role as a student advisor trainer.

A university in the area offers a Master of Science in Adult and Continuing Education, and it seemed perfect.

I enrolled in my first course and spent the weeks prior to class freaking out about whether I should bring a notebook or a laptop, or if I should dress up, or what it would be like.

Adults still experience first day jitters
With my 100% online MBA, I could “go to class” in my sweats, but I felt like I needed to dress to impress if I was going to be in a classroom.

In my first four-hour class session, I felt so intimidated. This particular course was considered to be an elective, so many of the students in class with me were tenured and nearing the end of their programs. They threw around names I had never heard before, like Malcolm Knowles and Eduard Lindeman.

I thought I might not be cut out for this program – it seemed like I was way behind the curve. I didn’t understand what I was feeling until it was explained to me in my fourth class, an actual introductory course.

There is a phenomenon known as Impostor Syndrome, where people feel like they are not good enough or smart enough to participate in their current situation. This was first discovered in studies with women who had achieved a degree of success in business or academia.

Going back to the root cause
According to Caltech’s Counseling Center, Impostor Syndrome has three categories:

  1. Feeling like a fake – this is the best way to describe how I felt in my first class. I was afraid I would be found out as a fraud for even trying to earn this master’s degree.

  2. Attributing success to luck – the underlying feeling in this kind of impostor syndrome is that a person’s skills have nothing to do with any success achieved. Those successes are merely a fluke. There is a fear here that is hard to overcome.

  3. Discounting success – people may mistake this for humility, but it is actually a level of discomfort with admitting success.

Impostor Syndrome can have two starkly different outcomes – victims can either be chronic underachievers or can be paralyzed into fear of not being perfect.

Create a plan to break the cycle
I borrowed a few ideas from this Forbes Magazine article on how to overcome Impostor Syndrome:

  • Focus on what you bring to the table: Don’t try to be perfect all the time. Failing at something can sometimes be the best learning experience. Do your best, work hard and don’t be afraid of failure.

  • Take credit for your successes: I’m not saying be cocky, but if you did something good, don’t act so humble that your accomplishments are diminished.

  • Don’t compare yourself to others: This is pure self-sabotage. People have different strengths, and all of those strengths are what make a classroom or office a dynamic place to be.

  • Be as ambitious as you want: Understand that you might not achieve all you aim for, but if you have high ambitions, it will pay off in the long run. It’s like that old saying, “Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

If you’re feeling like an impostor, remember that you deserve to be here. Don’t fear success. And work hard. If you are trying your best, there is no shame in any outcome.


About the author: Sarah Burgen is a Student Advisor Trainer and joined Grantham in 2010. She holds a MBA from Grantham and a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication from Winona State.

Outside of work, Sarah spends her time with her church assisting with children's ministries and volunteering in the community. She also enjoys exploring Kansas City with her wonderful family and coworkers.