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Alumna Highlights Two Tips on Managing Imposter Syndrome

By Maggie Dodson-

Today’s post featuring guest contributor and recent Darden alumna Tess Engebretson concludes the limited series highlighting imposter syndrome. It has been an honor to share the perspectives of Maeve McGilloway (MBA ’17) and Jaila Ingram-Johnson (EMBA ’20). Each describes how imposter syndrome and feelings of doubt or inadequacy have impacted them, and explores ways to acknowledge and overcome it.

Tess Engebretson, Consultant at Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

When I started business school, I felt like a fish out of water. With an undergraduate degree in geology and environmental policy and a background in clean energy and climate, I was certain that there was a “I don’t belong here” sticker on my forehead that everyone else could see. The good news? Not only was I far from being alone in that feeling, but Darden was the perfect place to practice getting over imposter syndrome. Below are two tips that have helped me manage feelings of imposter syndrome in school and my career.

1. Your experience is your competitive edge. I braced myself for introductions on my first day, expecting to be one of a handful of students without a CPA or a tour at one of the Big Four. It was the opposite – many students identified as nontraditional candidates and brought an incredible depth of experience across industries.

During case discussions, classmates with no finance experience were often uniquely able to drive the conversation because they saw the problem through a different lens. It was that bench of cross-industry experts and diversity of experiences – including “nontraditional” experiences – that moved the conversation forward and added value to the classroom. That extends into life post-MBA. Your experiences are a big part of what you bring to the table and they can help you see challenges or complex problem statements differently from your peers. Use it!

2. Uncomfortable? Do it afraid. At a 2018 event, Claire Shipman, co-author of the Confidence Code, encouraged women to avoid “Fake it ’til you make it,” noting that this common phrase is another way in which women are often encouraged to mask their true selves. Instead, she told us to “Do it afraid.” That’s been a mantra I’ve carried with me since; it’s helped me push myself through feelings of imposter syndrome by getting comfortable with the unknown. There are so many things throughout your life and career that you won’t be the expert on, and this is the perfect time to practice how you’ll leverage your strengths and operate at a high level in those situations. When in doubt? Ask thoughtful questions, put structure around the problem, and get comfortable asking for help.

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