How the Imposter Syndrome Almost Ruined My Business Trip (and How I Stopped it From Doing So)

woman waiting for subway trainDoing a PhD funded by an EU-project means that once a year I have to go to Brussels to present my work in front of a committee of experts, who decide whether my research is worth the money or not. Though it went well, the state I tuned into during those three days I spent in Brussels wasn’t always positive.

When I left home, I felt nervous and like I didn’t belong and somehow these negative emotions triggered a disastrous domino effect the second I left my door. These negative feelings came from my ever-present imposter syndrome. I regularly feel like a fraud, but this experience left so many insights that I decided to deconstruct it in the hope it might be of help to anyone else suffering from imposter syndrome.

Here’s how imposter syndrome almost ruined my business trip and what I did to overcome it.

I didn’t reserve a seat on the train.

I boldly skipped that step on the booking pipeline when I was asked whether I wanted to make a seat reservation for only 9 Euro. Why pay for an assigned seat when I would certainly have a random seat reserved for free? Well, it turned out there was no seat reserved on my train ticket. So I spent the entire trip moving from one seat to another, worsening my impostor syndrome status more and more every time the legitimate owner kicked me out to claim his spot.


It rained the whole time.

There’s no beautiful weather in disaster movies. That’s why as soon as I got out of the train the weather went from warm and sunny to cold and cloudy in a matter of minutes. I knew it was a sign that something bad was going to happen. Instead, I arrogantly went on a stroll, took a picture of the typical Belgian roofs, applied a pinkish filter, and posted it on Instagram to dissimulate the omen.

I packed the wrong clothes.

You aren’t supposed to wear jeans in review meetings like that. So I packed a very elegant pair of white trousers for that day, together with tons of pads and tampons because I would have had my period for the entire stay…and realized the irony of that when it was already too late.

Le Tote

My shirt was missing an important button.

The upper part of my outfit for the review was a crisp green button-up shirt, which wasn’t crisp at all when I took it out of the luggage. Plus, I couldn’t close the right cuff. I started to beat myself up because I should be more left-handed and I’m not. Once I finally realized I had simply lost the right cuff button, I was kind of relieved. I went to the review with a wrinkled shirt and one cuff open. The fashion of imposters: you can easily spot us this way!

Eating was almost impossible.

I went to eat at 7:10 a.m., fearing people would have had eaten all the scrambled eggs during the previous forty minutes that breakfast was supposed to be served. Sadly, there were no scrambled eggs. Not because of hungry guests, but because the lady hadn’t prepared the breakfast yet… I came back ten minutes later. The eggs were ready, but the coffee machine was pouring only warm water instead of espresso, or coffee, or cappuccino, or double espresso (I tried them all, of course). So the lady brought me a coffee from another machine and I went to get some milk. Only, there was no milk and I had to bug the lady again. Oh, yes—it’s hard to get food in surviving times!

I remembered I’m Catholic and that Jesus has my back…

While I was finally having breakfast, it started to rain. All of a sudden, I realized I had forgotten my umbrella in that bar I went to for a tea the evening before. Oh, no—my precious fancy umbrella that my mum gave me last Christmas! Oh, no—I’m wearing white trousers too! I took a deep breath, got out of the hotel, and walked fast under the rain towards the train station, desperately trying to pray. Please, please, please, Jesus! You helped me find my cell phone twice—umbrellas can’t be much harder!

But I was actually grateful I lost my umbrella because I was running out of inspiration.

After the review, I went back to the bar to see if my umbrella was still there. It wasn’t. They really took it. Oh gosh, I thought, how stupid it was to come here yesterday, hoping the wooden tables and the selection of organic teas of this bar would have given me the inspiration to write a blog post. Instead, I sat there staring at my tea the whole time feeling dizzy after nine hours of meeting and left the bar frustrated, not only because I wasn’t a good researcher, but because I wasn’t even a decent blogger. Wait a minute! What if I could write a blog post about the umbrella and all the unfortunate events of this trip to Brussels?! Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like such an imposter…

There you have it. Many ways that the imposter syndrome could have ruined my business trip and how I turned things around instead. What about you? Do you regularly feel like a fraud? If yes, did you find means to cope against that feeling and keep going?

Giulia Traverso

Breaking Thirty is a blog for young women in their late twenties and early thirties who aren't the adult they expected to be and still have to figure out most things in life. Behind Breaking Thirty, there is Giulia Traverso, a 28-year-old Italian gal living in Germany, where she’s about to finish a PhD in cryptography and computer security. She is passionate about fitness, wellness, self-improvement, living with purpose and writing about all of the above topics with irony and laughter.

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