Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

I have a secret. It’s one that I’ve hid from my readers for years. It’s the type of secret that makes me want to close all the curtains, and never show my face in public again. My secret is that I suffer from feelings of being an imposter.

Although I’ve been a practicing attorney since 2016 and a freelance writer who has been published in Al Jazeera and Insider since 2020, I still question my own abilities and self-worth. It’s a stomach-churning reality that stems from a mixture of lots of success and a shaky self-confidence. 

Maybe you’ve experienced it too? If you ever got into a prestigious fellowship program, or admitted into an ivy league college, or you beat out fifty people for that one corporate job and still felt like you only got it on sheer luck, then you too are probably suffering from what they call “imposter syndrome.”

 “Imposter syndrome” was first termed in the 1970’s by therapists who studied high achieving women who felt they didn’t really deserve the success, education or high positions they obtained. Studies have found that imposter syndrome causes women to be stuck in a never-ending cycle of feeling like failure is imminent, which leads to a frenzy of hard work, and then a short-lived gratification. 

Prominent women in the arts have admitted to experiencing imposter syndrome. Maya Angelou once said, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” More recently, writer, producer, and actress Issae Rae opened up about feeling like an imposter when she broke through barriers as a black female creator in Hollywood. 

Similarly, America Ferrara who was one of the leading actresses in the Barbie movie, admitted to having experienced the feelings of being out of place in moments of her stardom. While she believes those feelings of “I don’t belong here,” are completely real, she believes the term “imposter syndrome” doesn’t adequately define what’s really at play. Oftentimes, those feelings have nothing to do with lack of confidence, but are generated by systemic issues of gender bias and racism. 

This critique on the root cause of imposter syndrome is in line with a 2021 article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome.” The article points out that it is the failure of academic institutions and the corporate world that perpetuate inequities which fuel women’s feelings of not belonging. All that to say, if you’re feeling a lack of self-confidence or self-esteem, it’s not you that’s broken, it’s the system. 

As Muslim women, these feelings are magnified at times because of how we dress. In a society in which modest dress, particularly hijab, is still viewed as “different,” it is normal for women to feel like outsiders or imposters in spaces where we are few in number.

So what’s the solution here? How does one overcome these feelings of inadequacy or not belonging? 

The professionals will tell you to work on boosting your self-esteem with different exercises, like decreasing negative self-talk and surrounding yourself with people who will give you a pep talk when you’re feeling low. But as Muslims we don’t necessarily need to do as much work. 

As believers, we are taught that Allah makes no mistakes. What school we get into, what career we find success in, how much money we make, or what awards we get, are all things Allah has written. And because He is the grand master of the grand master plan, we can rest assured that no mistakes were made. We are exactly where we are supposed to be. 

In the moments when you feel low and you need a boost in confidence, you can recite this dua for renewed strength:

سُبْحَانَكَ لَا عِلْمَ لَنَا إِلَّا مَا عَلَّمْتَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ
Subhanaka laAAilma lana illa ma AAallamtanainnaka anta alAAaleemu alhakeem
"Glory be to You, we have no knowledge except what you have taught us. Verily, it is You, the All-Knower, the All-Wise."
Surah Al-Baqarah - 2:32

1 comment

  • Amera on

    Very true analysis of imposter syndrome and thank you for sharing how to deal with it with this Quranic Duua.

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