An Imposter Among Us

Posted on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2021

On any given Monday morning, I may glance up from my laptop and scope out my coworkers sitting in the cubicles adjacent to mine. A young man, who happens to be a former presidential appointee, sips his coffee between spouts of legal jargon he nonchalantly babbles to the recipient on the other end of the landline. I imagine the recipient is a congressional colleague. At his one o’clock sits a mature-looking woman dressed in all black with her hair tied back. She rapidly responds to the messages flooding her inbox, and not a single one of her contacts resides within the same county. To her right sits the President and Chief Executive Officer whose glass office contains a desk large enough for three employees and windows stretching from the ceiling to the floor. When I study the caliber of folks surrounding me each day, it is not difficult to recognize that one of these things is not like the other.

I diagnosed myself with imposter syndrome long before I contemplated moving to Washington, D.C. Despite the positive reinforcement I receive from my family, employers, and academic advisors, I still feel undeserving of the privilege I have to work alongside the nation’s leading policy experts. To overcome these insecurities, I developed a list of tips that I have learned since living in the capital:
  1. Fake it ‘til you make it. Even when I lack confidence prior to meeting with a coworker or supervisor, I carry myself as though I am an integral part of the organization’s success. Little adjustments to my posture, tone of voice, and willingness to engage in conversation allows me to exude maturity and professionalism that bolsters my self-esteem.
  2. Do not take anything personally. The culture in D.C. is significantly different from that in College Station. Nobody goes out of their way to say, “Howdy!” or ask about interns’ personal lives, but this does not mean that everyone in the city is callous. If a coworker seems terse, it is most likely because that individual is busy rather than angry at you. This leads to my third point. .
  3. Apologize and move on. Mistakes happen to everyone, and most of the time, those errors are insignificant in the grand scheme of the internship. Instead of dwelling on the mistake, apologize, reflect on how the experience is a learning lesson, and continue as if it never happened.
  4. Invest time in people and activities that make you happy. I have learned that accolades and recognition do not give me a sense of purpose strong enough to combat imposter syndrome. However, spending time with my friends in D.C. and frequently calling my family back in Texas makes me feel valuable, reaffirming the fact that I earned my position here.
Chances are that if you are interning in a new city, feeling overwhelmed by the rapidly-evolving environment, you are not alone. As I progress in my own internship, I am realizing that my superiors, though more experienced than myself, do not look down upon me because of my age. As a matter of fact, they all admit to suffering from the same self-esteem deficiencies that I am overcoming. Thus, they go out of their way to instill confidence in me and my performance, ensuring me that work ethic, professionalism, and a positive attitude are far more valuable than the items on my resume.

Matilin Rigsby
Department of Health and Human Services & Global Chain Alliance
Washington, D.C. | Summer 2021