The week I made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Science List

On Monday Forbes’ 30 Under 30 lists were released.

It was pretty crazy because this year I made the list! In the Science category, I was listed as one of Forbes 30 Under 30, along with 29 other brilliant people who have been using their love and dedication to science to make positive changes in our world.

This was exciting — but it brought up a lot of strange feelings for me — especially my imposter syndrome.

For those of you who don’t know, Imposter Syndrome “is a term coined in the 1970s by psychologists and researchers to informally describe people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” It’s the feeling that someone is going to find out that you do not belong. The feeling that you are where you are because of luck, chance, other people, the ability for you to trick people into believing you are better than you really are, or you know more than you really know.

I have suffered from imposter syndrome for at least a decade. I have worked hard, but it’s really hard for me to believe that I deserve what I have, or that the accomplishments that I’ve made are valid. I recognized my imposter syndrome when I was in my first year of grad school and since then I have been really trying to combat it — but I think instead I have just been ignoring it. Let’s see if I can explain it in the context of this weeks events.

When I found out I was nominated, I was very happy, but already feeling like a fraud. Am I really the one that should be nominated? What have I done to deserve it? I haven’t done anything alone (always had a team or partner). But I try to think about it differently:

I’m not the ONLY one that should be nominated, but I could deserve to also be nominated.

I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life to working hard towards helping others, and I think I have helped some people.

I have had a team or partner on all my projects, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t also working on them and contributing to them.

And I think that’s what it comes down to: When being nominated or recognized for my efforts, it’s not that I’m the best, or the one that should get the recognition, but I am one of the people that should be recognized, and that recognition could allow me to highlight all of the other people and efforts that have contributed to me being able to continue making my efforts towards helping others.

When, on Monday, it was announced that I made the Forbes list, I had another round of imposter syndrome. Because now there was external validation by someone who doesn’t know me — but I still felt like there must have been a fluke. Especially since I spent the entire day after it was announced trying to get some simple Java code to work and couldn’t. It just made me feel strange — people were congratulating me, and I didn’t know how to respond. Thank You seemed strange because I felt like I didn’t do anything. But saying it was nothing felt even worse because then I seem ungrateful. It made this week a very strange week for me emotionally. I literally didn’t know how to feel.

I don’t know how to solve imposter syndrome — but I do know that I have worked hard, my number one goal always is to help others and my second goal is to make sure that I focus on living a healthy (mentally, emotionally, physically) life. So with those things in mind, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight those who have made me the person I am today.

My Parents. They have always supported me and pushed me to work hard and never settle.

My Mentors. These include my PhD advisors, my teachers, my family, and students who were older than me. They have all challenged me and helped articulate accomplishments, even if I didn’t always believe them.

My Friends. All of them. They have all supported, loved, and pushed me. They don’t let me say bad things about myself and don’t let me believe that I don’t deserve things. They are all honest, caring, and successful. I look up to each of my friends, and trust their judgement because not only are they smart, but I know they love me and wouldn’t let me go down the wrong path.

My Mentees. Some of these people are also friends. I think my mentees are some of the most inspirational people in my life. They surpass where I was at their age or point in life. They are optimistic, brilliant, and hard working. Talking to them allows me to realize what my values are and why. They make me want to be a better person, because I want them to see an actual example of what I am saying. And if they have a situation that I have not encountered yet, it allows me to find someone who has or think through the situation with them to understand it.

Each of these people in my life have a unique and complex life. Talking to them and listening to them broadens my understanding of the world and gives me a lot to think about in my own life.

Having such amazing people in my life sometimes contributes to my imposter syndrome — since I truly believe that everyone deserves recognition for what they do — but I am grateful that they are there, because without them I would have never accomplished what I have.

When I sat down to write this, I didn’t know what I was going to write about — but I think now I understand what I want to say:

Surround yourself with as many people who are different than you as possible. Surround yourself with people that are smarter, more accomplished, and more hard working than you so that you have something to work towards. Surround yourself with people who will be honest with you, but who truly love and care for you, so you know that you can trust what they are saying. Find your number 1 and number 2 goals in life and make sure that you are always working towards them — and check in with them every once in a while to make sure they are still your top two goals. Don’t compare yourself to others — you don’t know what other people are going through. Instead, focus on what matters to you and what you have accomplished.

So thank you to everyone in my life. Thank you for helping me realize who I want to be, and how to get there. Thank you for allowing me to change my mind and supporting me through that. Thank you for being someone I can look up to, and someone I can strive to be a role model for. Thank you for listening, thank you for talking, thank you for always being there.

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