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September 8, 2020

Synclaire Warren, a Community Engagement Intern at UNICEF USA, reflects on experiencing imposter syndrome while interning virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The time of full classrooms and busy jam-packed offices have come to a halt. But what does that mean for college club members emerging into the workforce? Does school or the job even count if I am the only one who sees what I am doing? I often wonder if the people on the screen are even real. After hours of staring at my laptop, everything begins to mush together and the emails bombard me. 

The fact that I am employed, but I have yet to meet any of my colleagues in person or speak to them without worrying if my mic is on creates a feeling of diffidence about my position at work. The Harvard Business Review defines Imposter syndrome as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.

Everyone feels imposter syndrome differently, but for me, it feels like I am part of the mean kids clique in school. It's like all of my colleagues, friends and family are smiling at my face and telling me how proud they are of me, but behind my back, they are laughing at me and saying that what I am doing doesn't matter or doesn't count.

'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. Everyone feels imposter syndrome differently, but for me, it feels like I am a part of the mean kids clique in school. It’s like all of my colleagues, friends and family are smiling at my face and telling me how proud they are of me, but behind my back, they are laughing at me and saying that what I am doing does not matter or doesn’t count. Imposter syndrome is conjured in my head and the loneliness of the pandemic although helps my physical health, it amplifies my imposter syndrome.

The internship applications process is still the same and that is a comfort that I found through this whole pandemic. Applying on LinkedIn and Handshake is comprehensive and accessible for any job or internship that someone wants to apply to. If you are like me you have been rejected many times by internships. It was almost inevitable for me to receive an email from prospects stating, “Thank you but we are unable blah blah blah. ” I have come to understand that although rejection can be heartbreaking it is in no way a reflection of myself.

When I received an email from UNICEF I thought it was going to be the same thing. But to my surprise, I had finally been accepted. I wanted this internship because I wanted a chance to take my passion for advocacy and be able to help others in an engaging and comprehensive way.

My colleagues are in a way all in my room with me, but in reality, they couldn't be farther away. The screen pervents us from infecting others, but it also aids in my isolation. 

My excitement slowly dissipated when I realized that I would still be stuck at home and I would not need office clothes. Instead, I would be in a button-down shirt paired with pajama pants. I would not have an office chair, just my stool with the flat iron burn. There would not be a chattering water hole, just my Brita in the fridge. Sometimes my position on the Community Engagement team feels fantastical, too good to be true like Santa Clause. My colleagues are in a way all in my room with me, but in reality, they couldn’t be farther away. The screen prevents us from infecting others, but it also aids in my isolation.

I try to balance how grateful I am to be a part of a wonderful organization and a lovely team while also not denying my feelings of loneliness and disappointment. I know I am not singular in the disbelief of my job position nor am I alone in my insecurity of its validity. It is imperative to acknowledge these feelings and find positive outlets to speak about them.

There are a few ways to overcome these adversities. 

What to do to overcome imposter syndrome in a virtual environment:

  • Reach out to your supervisor, coworkers and set up a virtual 30-minute virtual coffee chat
  • Create weekly or monthly goals for yourself
  • Find others in a similar position/circumstance so you can have someone to relate to and create a support group
  • Go for a walk and pretend it's your commute to work
  • Create a space to work in your home

Wherever you are, I hope you believe that you deserve to take up space. Good luck in all your endeavors!

Synclaire Warren, Community Engagement Intern at UNICEF USA,