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GHC: An Antidote for Imposter Syndrome

Wouldn’t one think that a building with thousands of the world’s smartest tech people is the LAST place an “intellectual fraud” should spend a few days? That it would trigger spontaneous combustion of some sort? Not true. In fact, the opposite happens for me. I’ve been reflecting on this for the past few days and here’s why I think events like the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) should be an annual booster shot for any tech woman prone to fits of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome (also known as fraud syndrome) is said to be found most often with gifted and high-achieving women. They feel undeserving and fake and feel they’ve deceived others into thinking they’re competent. They may dismiss their success as luck.



I’ve read that one of the best ways to overcome imposter syndrome is to recognize that it exists. GHC to the rescue. I first heard the term at the 2010 GHC where it was considered important and relevant enough to dedicate a plenary session to the topic. I was astonished to hear the extremely accomplished women on the panel expressing some of my same feelings and to learn some of the causes and why it’s so prevalent among women in science and tech fields.


Another popular recommendation for overcoming imposter syndrome is through a support system. I think GHC excels here. It’s truly a coming together of women not only to discuss all things tech, school, and career, but also how they cope with real-life challenges. There’s a feeling of community at this conference like no other that I’ve been to. I’m not much of a mingler and yet at each conference I’ve attended, I’ve made lasting friendships with women who truly get me and where I am in life.


If you think you’re an intellectual fraud, you need to know that a mistake does not tell the story of YOU. You don’t need to sell yourself short because you screwed up or because you want to deflate the balloon in advance of screwing up so you can avoid hearing that “pop!” I’m inspired at GHC when I hear the stories of twists, turns, and setbacks that ultimately resulted in a person, career, or lifestyle that I admire.


Finally, another treatment I’ve heard prescribed for imposter syndrome is to “focus on the value you bring.” I think GHC gives plenty of opportunity for that. Volunteering as a Hopper, blogging as a community evangelist, facilitating a lunchtime table topic, becoming a speed mentor, and becoming a Syster buddy are just a few of the ways you can appreciate the value you offer and give a reality-check to that imposter side of you.

My kudos to all you self-labeled imposters who’ve chosen to attend GHC 2014 anyway – I’m anxious to meet you and hear your experience.

You can learn more about imposter syndrome, particularly as it relates to students, on the Caltech Counseling Center’s Imposter Syndrome page.