Maybe you are actually something special.

I cried in the middle of a class. Again. That’s happened more than I would’ve expected in my life. This time, it was a Friday morning, before a really important exam.

In medical school, we have these yearly exams to make sure that we kind of know what we’re doing when it comes to patient care. They’re called the OSCEs, pronounced Oss Skeez, (Objective Structured Clinical Examination). We go from room to room with “standardized patients” (actors) who pretend they have some disease and we have to diagnose them by asking the important doctorly questions or performing the right physical exams or we have to deliver a difficult diagnosis, depending on which room we’re in. This happens while 1 or 2 real doctors stare at us with judging eyes and clipboards where they make notes of all the things we messed up and all the reasons why we shouldn’t graduate and don’t deserve to be doctors.

It’s terrifying and really really important. I’m in my last year of school and this exam represents the last significant hurdle I have to clear before I graduate. If I get past this one, all I have to do to graduate is not fail any of my classes or clinic rotations and that’s pretty easy, all things considered.

In the weeks leading up to my OSCE, my schedule was relentless. I was growing more nervous by the day and I had no time to deal with it. I sincerely convinced myself that I wasn’t smart enough to pass the exam, that I’m not worthy of graduating or becoming a doctor. It was a hard week. I became unbelievably fragile. Every small mistake I made was irrefutable proof of my inadequacy. I was so hard on myself.

The exam itself really is stressful but I think I was more caught up by the fact that I’ve been doing this for so long and I’m finally at the point where I can actually succeed. Becoming a doctor is no longer this theoretical thing that might happen down the road if I keep on plugging away. It’s suddenly coming down to a few tangible loose ends – then it’s over and I’ll have done it.

But of course, I don’t feel worthy. I’m not ready. I don’t know enough. I make too many mistakes. I have no idea what I’m doing. They can’t possibly let me be a doctor. I can’t graduate! As my Friday exam approached, I was extremely insecure and filled to the brim with self-doubt.

The night before my exam, I had a first-year student with me for my evening clinic shift. She followed me around and observed my patient interactions. After a patient visit, she told me how great it was to see the way I took the patient history and how impressed she was by the way I guided the discussion so I could obtain all of the pertinent information and come up with a reasonable diagnosis and treatment plan. She thought my physical exam skills were smooth and efficient. She said she learned a lot from observing me.

I quietly thanked her and told her I enjoyed working with her. I was struck by a memory of the first time I observed an upperclassman, the same way she had just observed me. I was just as impressed by the student I watched. But now I was that upperclassman and I immediately started having a really intense identity crisis. I felt confused. I didn’t know who I’d become. I didn’t know what I was.

As I was riding my bike home I had a definitive, defiant thought; No. She’s wrong. She was only impressed because she’d never been in the clinic before. She shouldn’t be impressed. My physical exam skills are not smooth or efficient. She just doesn’t know any better. I convinced myself that I’m a fraud and I was about to be exposed during my OSCE. That thought stung. It hurt. I started crying.

Somehow I made it home alive and fell asleep. (Don’t cry and bike, please. Very dangerous). When I woke up, I didn’t feel any better. I went to my morning oncology class even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay any attention.

Class started and the professor asked everyone to stand up. I stood.

He said, “Ok, now please sit down if you don’t exercise at least 5 days a week for more than 20 minutes a day.” I remained standing. I’m an athlete and I mostly train for hours a day. Even on my rest days, I run or ride my bike more than 20 minutes.

Then he said, “Ok, now please sit down if you have more than 3 alcoholic drinks a week.” I remained standing. Beer makes me feel like garbage and I rarely have more than 1 drink a week.

Then he said, “Ok, please sit if you eat less than 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.” I remained standing. Well, that’s pretty much all I eat and it takes more than 9 servings to get me through the day.

I was in the front row and facing the professor so it wasn’t until this point that I realized almost all of my classmates were seated. It filled me with anxiety. Please, let me sit down on the next one.

Then he said, “Ok, please sit if you eat less than 38 grams of fiber per day.” I remained standing. A few years ago, I set a personal goal of eating 45 grams of fiber per day and I put a massive amount of effort into figuring out how to make that happen. It took time and practice but these days, on a rare low-fiber day, I’ll still eat 40 grams.

I quickly glanced behind me and didn’t see anyone standing. I think there may have been a few of us left but I didn’t look hard enough to notice. Something interesting happened to me right then. I felt like a fraud. Like I should be sitting. Like I don’t actually do all of these things. I assumed everyone was looking at me standing and seeing through my blatant lies.

Of course, this is ridiculous because not only do I consciously do all of these things, I’ve actually practiced and put effort into creating these habits. But I somehow still felt like an imposter.

The professor gave a few more scenarios, sit down if you smoke, if you have an above-optimal body mass index, etc, and I remained standing. By the time the exercise ended (which felt like 3 hours) and I sat down, I was closer than I’ve ever been to having a panic attack. My heart was pounding. I was sweating. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. But it didn’t make any sense.

The professor began lecturing on cancer risk factors and genetic predisposition and I didn’t pay any attention whatsoever. I was busy trying to understand what was happening to me. He turned the lights down and put on a TedTalk by some incredible doctor doing incredible things (I assume. I don’t actually know, I wasn’t listening).

I was trying to reasonably comprehend why I was feeling like a fraud when I got violently slapped by the answer. I felt like a fraud because I have some unrelated and unfounded insecurities. I was wrong to feel like a fraud. I exercise and eat vegetables and count my fiber intake. This is all completely true. I’m totally not a fraud.

It took another minute before I was struck by the implication of my realization; Maybe I’m also wrong about my skills as an aspiring doctor. Maybe I am worthy. Maybe I can graduate. Maybe all of the things I’ve dedicated my life to are actually coming to fruition. Maybe I am actually something special.

I started crying. Again. But this one was different. These tears came from a feeling I didn’t know how to process. An overwhelming emotion I absolutely was not ready for. Pride.

Luckily, the TedTalk wasn’t a short one. I mostly pulled it together by the time the lights came back on. The class eventually ended. I learned nothing about oncology that day.

Before I left to go to my exam, a classmate asked if I felt ready for it. I said, “No, I’m terrified.” She looked surprised, “Really?” She smiled. “I would totally vote you least likely to fail.” I laughed and thanked her.

I took my OSCE later that day. I really don’t know if I did well enough to pass. We’ll get our results in a week or so but I’m not very concerned with that. I gave it everything I had. I tried as hard as I could. If I fail, it doesn’t mean that I’m a fraud or an imposter or that I don’t deserve to graduate. It just means I have to try again. And while I still have my doubts, at least I know I’m really good at trying.

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323 thoughts on “Maybe you are actually something special.

  1. I loved this. As a 45 year old man who doubts myself daily, I can really relate to your pain. Even when I write a blog post, the moment I post it, I have doubts as to whether it is any good. I get told regularly that what I write is good stuff – but it doesn’t stop the doubts. You’re a good guy – and you know what? So am I.

    Keep up the great blog work, and doctor stuff!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Oh my goodness, yes! We all have those feelings, right? There’s no way I’m ready for this challenge or that new chapter. Except that you are. As you described that transition from a far away goal to something that is about to finally be realized, I thought about some of those ah-ha moments in my journey, and it made me smile. I totally needed this. If I get that next project or meet that next goal, that’s great. If I’m not the right fit this time, it doesn’t make me a failure. Just someone who absolutely will dust myself off and try again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Old Heart, New Start and commented:
    If you’ve ever felt like you don’t deserve to be where you’re at (in your workplace, in your school program, etc.) please give this a read. It was really good to hear that other people who are totally capable and worthy also doubt themselves and their abilities. But it doesn’t mean that doubting, negative voice is correct.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeeze. I can’t believe how much this resonates with me. Thank you for sharing. It’s so relevant not only to the school and workplace environments, but to emotional ones as well.

    I had an interview for a PhD program on Friday, and everyone around me seemed so brilliant. I felt completely out of place – “This must be a mistake. I don’t belong here with these people.”

    But the thing is (and I’m still trying to realize this) a team of professionals in my field sat down and picked the best candidates of hundreds of applications. And I was on that list. They liked me enough to bring me here. I am not an imposter. Even if I don’t get in, they saw potential in me, and I need to start seeing it in myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They generally don’t take the time to interview unqualified dummies! I would bet that you’re far more accomplished and worthy than you give yourself credit for. Good luck and if you don’t get into this program, find another one and try again. Be confident and don’t ever give up. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey, I dont really comment on this kind of sites. But I just feel like I need to say that…often times I feel like ‘I dont really worth it’ like im so pretentious and I dont deserved all the things i have. But as I grow up, I mean being matured I realize that self-pity will lead me to nowhere, those time of depression I realized that, if I wont ‘believe’ to myself, then who will?
    Be optimistic! I can say that you are very compassionate and a great person as well so with every decisions you make, every risks you take, whether you fail or succed, Smile and keep living because ‘what is life without challenge?’ sounds boring if theres none right? You might feel unworthy at times but let me tell you that ‘sometimes I also feel that way’ but dont take it as a hindrance, take it as motivation to reach your Goal 😊.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. James, I admire your vulnerability and the fact that you had the guts to share your soul in public. Bravo. Reading your post reminded me of my college days (recent graduate-less than 2 years out). In our Creative Writing classes, we had to write, edit, re-edit, and then re-write. I had the same doubts you did. “Am I good enough to be a writer?” “I have nothing to say. I’m a fraud and everyone will know it!” Sometimes, I still feel that way, especially since I started my blog a few days ago. But coming here and reading your words, seeing your honesty, helps me to remember to breathe, collect myself, and remind myself that I’m not a failure or a fraud, but someone, like you, trying to find her way in the world. Don’t give up, James. And congratulations on passing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I want you to know that the humility, honesty, and human nature you put into this piece inspired me. It helped me to understand that no matter where we are in life, there is always doubt, but not without surprising outcomes. Good Luck to you and don’t stop writing. I look forward to reading more from you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is pretty much how I’ve been feeling since I started university in 2009. I come from a small village (15 houses, believe it or not) in the montainous North of Spain where there were not many possibilities to learn foreign languages. I didn’t have internet back then so the only gate to English learning was through dictionaries, English books and my English lessons at high-schools whose demand level was quite low. I was the best though, and it felt quite right. Until I made it to university and had to face reality. The reality of sharing classrooms with bilingual students, or people who had spent the last 5 summers in the USA or who had attended highschool in Ireland. And I realised I simply couldn’t follow the lessons. I understood probably 20% or 30% of them. I was demanded to learn, read and write only in English and my language level was definitely not enough. But I wanted to be a translator. It was something I knew since I was 12 years old. So I worked hard during the 5 years of Bachelor and the year of Master and I did improved a lot and became one of the best. However I never believed it. I always felt a fraud even though I got the highest grade on my final paper out of 80 students. I was stuck on the first year and could never see the improvement. I finished university and jumped into “real life” while being still stuck on that first year. I needed many people (most of them strangers) telling me how good I was. When I was a child, I wanted to speak English fluently but I alwasy felt was never good enough so I continued working and didn’t wake up until I saw myself in the moment where I am right now: being a professional translator and speking 4 languages fluently. I did not only became who I wanted to be, but much more, and I never realised.

    And yeah, I also cried a lot even though I wouldn’t admit it so easily.

    Thank you!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What an amazing story! You are incredibly inspiring. Congratulations on all of your success. It’s so great to hear that you were able to accomplish your dreams. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Awesome, accurate and inspiring. So much honesty and openness. I feel this so often and with so much conviction, it is good to read that I’m not alone in this.. it’s an all consuming feeling when it gets you..
    thank you..
    I am sure you will be amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The road in earning that license is really tough. You have to deal with all those sleepless nights and even if you think you did everything for your patient, there will still come a point wherein you will be questioned. These are the things that we have to undergo in order to shape us. I know you have a long way to go but at least you finally took the first step.. Congrats doctor!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. James, thank you for sharing this. I enjoyed reading it a lot. I’ve been writing since I was young and it’s the only thing I’ve ever felt completely confident about. But I’ve also felt like an impostor or a liar at times. I’ve wondered if my poems are good, or is it just easier for people to say that than the truth.

    I used to want to be a doctor and I didn’t have the courage (or my shit together) to try for that, like seriously try. I think it’s amazing that you’re studying medicine and also that you’ve made such efforts to be healthy while you’re learning about keeping others healthy. The best minds, historically, have their fingers in many pies. I like that you’re studying in medicine but you’re also keeping creative.

    As a 40-year-old-woman, I’m pretty content with my life and my choices, but I can’t help to wonder what might be different had I tried harder or not let fear stop me.

    Just be you, James. You seem honest and genuine, which are traits impostors cannot possess. You keep at writing and you’ll not have to look back and wonder what happened if you tried.

    Like

  12. It’s so refreshing to hear that I’m not the only one who feels this way sometimes (a lot). I doubt myself far too much. I discount my own abilities. I hope you achieved the results you’d hoped for 🙂

    Like

  13. Did you pass? I failed on interviews a few times, but now I feel I am much better. Courage is when you keep going even when you know you can lose.

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  14. Wow it’s amazing to think that somebody with so many things going for them like you could still feel insecure!! I thought it was only average Joe’s like myself that felt that way!! Not many people can even get into medical school so the fact you were accepted in the first place says a lot! Plus the determination to stick to your healthy lifestyle! Sometimes we are own worst critics and enemies. Sounds like maybe you have anxiety? Maybe worth addressing it? Not that I’m a doctor but I do have anxiety/negative thinking and you kind of sound like me. Anyway good luck with your exam and don’t listen to any negative self talk!! You can do this!!!x

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  15. This post is so inspirational! Even if you try your hardest to succeed and not to drown in your own sea of anxiety, you’ll always know that there’s always a chance to try again and again.
    Also the uncomfortable feeling of thinking you aren’t able to do or get the things you want to just because you don’t feel special or good enough. That’s the most terrible but relatable feeling.
    The feeling of questioning his own abilities.
    Btw it is very well and smooth written and nice to read with a good amount of tension.

    Like

  16. Imposter syndrome is a term I’ve heard a lot of graduate students throwing around. I didn’t realize that I was afflicted. I kept thinking that maybe the program and courses were too easy because no one really cared…or that I was sliding by because I had a good working relationship with the faculty. I couldn’t grasp the reality that I was actually studying, researching, and writing at a PhD level. A few years later and I still find myself wandering in the halls of doubt, wondering if someone is going to point me out as an imposter. The feeling is truly frightening, and often makes me second guess myself when applying for jobs. I respect and applaud your honesty, and I know you are not alone.

    Like

  17. I think you speak to a fear many of us have. I always feel like I need to explain myself to others for what I’m doing as if I haven’t worked to get where I am. So silly….

    I think I would have been paralyzed standing in the front row of your class like that. I can’t even imagine!

    I’m getting ready to apply to graduate school and part of the reason why it’s taken me so long to submit an application is because I would imagine being in a similar situation as you described in your article. That absolutely terrifies me.

    I’ve learned over the years that just accepting that you feel that way is all you need to do. Don’t try to deny the part of you that feels like a fraud because it’s a part of you…. as silly as it sounds. Learning to embrace all the quirks of our personalities helps to minimize the impact it has in the long run.

    I’m proud of you! Great job getting through it. Keep on trying 🙂

    Like

  18. I enjoyed reading your stories and can also personally relate. I am new to the blogging world and was inspired to begin because I am finding that taking just a few minutes of each day to force myself to be happy through appreciation. It is still challenging sometimes, but it is getting easier. Anyway, I just want to say that I like your stories and you are not alone!

    Like

      1. Thank you! Maybe we can collaborate! I am learning that connecting with bloggers of similar themes can help build audiences!

        Like

  19. Thanks for sharing this story. I think we all feel this way from time to time (at least I know I do). Also, you may have felt insecure and like a fraud…but now I feel inadequate. Gotta go eat some fiber 🙂

    Like

  20. Can definitely relate…feeling like a fraud haunts me almost everyday. Successful accountant but feels like I cannot do anything right. Meditation helps a great deal and learning that being imperfect is OK. Great blog!

    Like

  21. I totally understand. I too have unfounded insecurities that will often hold me back. Then, I start to think ‘Why?’ and I can’t come up with an answer. Starting a WordPress blog, I’ve found, is helping me to feel much better about myself. Good luck with everything!

    Like

  22. Hello James
    This was a great post!
    Very motivating.
    It was like reading about myself. The self doubts and all. We have worked so hard to reach this place and now that we are here, the pressure, the doubts makes it tough.
    But your post friend , it filled me with zeal
    Thank you
    And do keep writing !

    Like

  23. If I fail, it doesn’t mean that I’m a fraud or an imposter or that I don’t deserve to graduate. It just means I have to try again. And while I still have my doubts, at least I know I’m really good at trying.

    This one totally took away my heart.
    Thank you once again !

    Like

  24. Loved this! I could totally relate to this post. As a graduate of law school, I’ve wrestled with many, if not all, of the emotions and thoughts that you wrote about here. Loved your honesty. It’s hard seeing a dream slowly turn into a reality and then self-doubt starts to creep in. Keep on pushing. You got this! I wish you all the best in the future!

    Like

  25. Amazing. There were a few moments as I read your experience that I felt I was back in medical school and the challenges and struggles to do everything right. The first time failing a class in my life was Anatomy, first term, first year. Feeling like an imposter, yeah…being judged by others, YES…told I wasn’t doctor material, YES… lots went wrong. I didn’t finish, left after three years with two more to go. Yet, I learned a lot, raised a teenage daughter in the process, did other things. That was ten years ago, do I regret it, Nope. It has made me a better person, yet there are times I feel sad. Keep being you, doing what makes you smile and feel alive and continue to strive for your goals. You have something special in you, that others need to see.

    Like

    1. Thank you for your comment. Raising a daughter sounds way more difficult than medical school, in my opinion! It’s great to hear that you were able to turn everything into a learning experience, that’s what it’s all about!

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Really amazing. I’m learning myself on how to love me. I’m writing on my blog about my on-going journey of self-compassion. This was such an amazing post I probably will share it on my next post! Thank you so much for writing. I enjoyed it a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Hi 🙂 this post was absolutely engrossing !! Thanks for sharing your experience. I am sure there are a lot of people who feel similarly about exams (and especially osce).. at least I know I do 😉

    Like

  28. I find this blog month after you posted and I feel so curious about the final results

    That said I am a doctor, a new intern and throughout Med school and now internship I have always felt like I don’t know enough ..like I am average and other people out there are better …like I somehow always pass by fluke and like I need extra training all the time. My patients come to thank me…my supervisors tell me I’m doing great and pride sometimes visits me and it’s quite something to know that in all that I actually do know what I’m doing .. I am not stupid ..and I actually am a doctor.

    So you are a winner …anxiety and doubt sometimes may shroud your judgement but it makes you no less of a doctor…the confidence kicks in. Later with experience …and you may not realize it…but it already has started building

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jemimah! Thanks so much for your encouraging words! I did pass the exam and my graduation is less than 2 weeks away! I’m starting a residency in Atlanta, GA in a few months…I’m sure I’ll have some stories to write about all of that. 🙂 Thanks again for your comment and I’m happy to hear that your confidence is building!

      Liked by 1 person

  29. This is so inspiring.
    I’m so into it that i can’t just stop thinking as to how, at times, we underestimate ourselves to such an extent that the insecurity supersedes our true ownership skills which no one can snatch from us.

    Like

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