Why Not Me? Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

by: Shelly N. Laurenzo

Amidst the morning hustle of getting ready for work and a toddler ready for preschool I hear a light bing come from my cell phone. Thinking it might be a traffic alert, dreaded with my 35-mile commute, I hesitantly picked up my phone and instead saw a calendar alert for a director’s group meeting the next day. Director’s group? Why would I be getting a calendar invite to director’s group? And then I remembered, I’m now a member of director’s group. A few days prior I was promoted in the office and now held a seat in at the table of my office’s leadership team. As soon as my decaffeinated brain processed this information my second thought was, I’m not ready for this. Clearly this is a mistake. I’m an imposter.

I had been in my previous role as an advisor for a little less than four years when the assistant for first year advising position came open. The assistant director coordinates the university’s first year advising program, supervises two advisors, and is a member of the office’s leadership team. And now I, one of the younger members of the office both in age and tenure, was stepping into this role.

Am I really ready for this responsibility? Will I be a good role model for the advisors whom I am now supervising? As their supervisor in their first professional job, will I jumpstart them on the path to success? Or keep them stuttering in neutral waiting for the next job to open up? Leading and coordinating efforts for the university’s first year advising program, will all 70+ faculty and professional advisors respect my decisions and leadership? Will they trust me? The confidence that sustained me through the job application process and interview had vanished. Did the director make a mistake in hiring me? Did I make a mistake in applying and accepting?

These were the questions that plagued me in the beginning; however I continued to move forward. In many ways, I am glad this transition happened in the summer, the busiest season for this line of work. While these questions floated through my mind I did not have the energy to entertain them for long, there were too many emails to answer, fires to put out, and cats to herd. My initial goal when I stepped into this role was to just keep the train moving forward on the right tracks. There are so many moving pieces to this program; I just wanted to keep the engine going and, for the most part, I did.

In addition to focusing on work I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by amazing female colleagues that I also call my friends. As I confided in them my concerns, worries, and doubts, they helped to hold up a mirror to remind me of why I was selected for this position in the first place and why I would succeed. In the words of Mindy Kaling: “‘Why the f*@$ not me?’ should be your motto.” I had the intelligence, adaptability, and innate curiosity to make me successful in this role and I was reminded of this through doing the work and pep talks from my phenomenal peers.

As the responsibilities of first year advising started to wind down after the first week of the semester, another part of my life was in for a major transition. My partner and I welcomed our second child mid-September. Currently in the midst of maternity leave, I am happy to take a step back from work to evaluate the early weeks of my job transition and prepare for my return in early December. Instead of fearing everyone would find out I’m some kind of fraud, I have already been thrown into the deep end and I swam. This time away from work has also given me the opportunity to ask better questions than I did in the beginning. Instead of worrying how others will perceive my leadership, I’m focusing on how to be the best leader I can be. How can I support the advisors I supervise? How can I make the best decisions for the future and sustained success of the program?  How do I want to continue to grow and develop as a professional in this new role?

Through hard work and fantastic friends (and a conveniently timed break) I have been able to cure myself of imposter syndrome. While I’m not in a huge rush to return to the office at the moment, I have a sweet baby sleeping on my chest as I type this in my pajamas, I do feel re-energized about my work and am excited to meet the challenges ahead. Now on to the hard tasks: developing my leadership style and encouraging my newborn to sleep through the night.


Shelly N. Laurenzo is the Assistant Director for First Year Advising at James Madison University. Laurenzo earned her MEd in higher education administration from the College of William and Mary and her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from James Madison University. Connect with her on Twitter @ShellyLaurenzo. 


2 thoughts on “Why Not Me? Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

  1. Great post Shelly. I can certainly relate to your thoughts. In addition to questioning my qualifications in new employment positions, I also felt this way when I finished my doctorate several years ago. What were they thinking “giving” me a PhD? Sometimes we are far too hard on ourselves and tend to downplay our accomplishments when instead we need to be proud of our hard work. Loved the Mindy Kaling quote by the way. Also, congratulations on your new little one.

    1. Thank you Nichole! I agree, we tend to overlook our qualifications sometimes and focus on those areas of growth instead of our demonstrated strengths.

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