A Publication of WTVP

Facing imposter syndrome

by Katie Faley | Illustration by Missy Shepler |
Sept 20-Something with doll 600ppi CMYK

In your 20s, it can take a while to figure out if and where you belong

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret.

I feel like a fraud.

And I know I’m not alone, because there’s a real psychological term that has gained traction on social media among the younger generation: imposter syndrome.

I fear that I’ve gotten the jobs I have thanks to luck rather than accomplishment

I often feel like I’m only pretending to be an adult. I have this lingering fear that at any moment I’m going to be exposed for being an imposter. I fear that I’ve gotten the jobs I have thanks to luck rather than accomplishment or hard work. I often vent my feelings with my friends, who all happen to feel the same way.

In fact, one friend, a new mom, recently told me that she still feels like she’s just a teenage babysitter for her own baby. She doesn’t feel old enough to have a baby, even though she’s a few years older than her mom was when she had her first baby in the ‘90s. She keeps waiting for the letter to come in the mail to tell her that she passed all her courses, got her degree in motherhood and she’s allowed to be a mom.

Seeking work after college

I’m a little bit into my career now, but when I was first trying to break into the workforce, I was nothing short of stressed. I thought I understood the concept of finding a job until I actually went searching for a job. In my naiveté, I almost believed a job would just magically fall into my lap.

When I started searching for a real adult job for the first time, it seemed like I was getting advice from all sides.

From my parents I heard that you need to physically go into the building of the place you want to work and ask for an application.

From the career services at my college, I heard that you just need the perfect résumé.

From LinkedIn, I heard you just need to have the right connections.

I thought if I put all of that advice together, I’d have the perfect combination and get a job without a problem.

The only problem was, I didn’t really have any connections. That seemed like something that came about after you already broke into the workforce. I created a résumé, but it seemed I had most of the same qualifications as everyone I just graduated with. Most of all, I didn’t even know what kinds of jobs existed in the field I was looking in. I didn’t even know what field to look in!

‘Hey, fish, if you want to get in the water, you need to grow legs and walk there’

I felt like a fish out of water, and everyone’s advice sounded to me like, “Hey, fish, if you want to get in the water, you need to grow legs and walk there.”

Finding a job and failing

I finally secured a job in May of my graduation year. I was excited. The world was at my feet. Soon after graduation, I started working, and it went … horribly. It was a terrible fit. Everything about it was awful.

I ended up leaving that job feeling like a failure. I thought I’d never find a job again. At that point, I knew I wanted to change career paths. I knew I wanted to do something creative and meaningful and I really wanted there to be writing involved, but I still didn’t know what kind of job that would be.

Again, I got the same well-meaning advice.

I was back to being a fish flopping around thinking I’d never grow legs. But then one day, a nice pelican came along, figuratively scooped me up and threw me in the deep end.

That pelican was my first boss in marketing. I didn’t have any experience in marketing, but he took a chance on me. Even after months of working, I felt like at any moment he’d find out I wasn’t qualified. But he stuck with me, taught me more than I learned in school, and when I told him I found another job in marketing that was a better opportunity, he heartily congratulated me.

Along the way, I’ve had a bit of luck, lots of great bosses, coworkers and supporters. In the end, it took all of those job tips coming together: a little bit of networking, straight-out asking people if there were any open jobs, and a unique résumé.

Katie Faley

Katie Faley

is a Peoria native — Notre Dame High, Class of 2013 — who moved away following college, earned a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame, and returned with a fuller appreciation of her hometown. She works at OSF HealthCare