Ever Feel “Out of Your League”?: On Impostor Syndrome and Youth Innovation

Here is the opening plenary from YTH Live:

This video captures the first panel at YTH Live, featuring six bright minds and young leaders making a difference in health and tech. When I saw it, I was awestruck and mostly speechless. It was absolutely thrilling to learn about my fellow youth leaders’ exciting projects. On the other hand, I felt somewhat anxious as if everything was out of my league. All the panelists seemed very accomplished at such young ages—some of them even younger than myself—so it was very easy to feel out of place.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve felt like this. When I was 15 years old, I moved to the US to start college. While I succeeded in my classes, I kept waiting for my peers and professors to somehow figure out that I was too young and naïve to be in college. It wasn’t until my senior year that a close mentor told me that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.

She called it the “impostor syndrome.” The impostor syndrome, while not a recognized medical condition, has been used to describe a deep self-doubt affecting many high achieving individuals, more often women than men. As a woman of color in academia, my mentor mentioned that she often felt undeserving of her accolades amidst a community of mostly white male academics because of their historic privilege and power in the field. Her story deeply resonated with my own and to this day, I keep it in mind whenever I feel that familiar sense of self-deprecation.

At YTH Live, during my time in the Social Media Lounge, I was tasked with advising a woman who sought help with her nonprofit work with young adults. I thought, “Great. What could I possibly give her that she hasn’t heard before?” Trying my luck, I began  talking about Tumblr, a microblogging platform that I use in my personal life. In a sheer stroke of genius, we explored the idea of using microblogging to encourage her young adults to keep a steady digital presence and empower them to produce original content without the pressure to create lengthy posts like traditional blog sites. Instantly, I was reminded that good leaders don’t have to always tell you what to do. Instead, they know when to say, “Hey, let’s pool our resources and figure this out together!”


After this experience, I finally realized that I deserved to showcase my expertise at YTH Live, much like the youth leaders in the opening plenary. Without knowing, I was able to translate something so simple from my lifestyle into something very useful for someone else.

Remember, innovation requires a fresh new take on dated methodologies and ideas.  As youth leading innovation on health and technology, we possess unprecedented knowledge and skills that are valid and useful—sometimes, we just don’t know it yet. For all we know, we could already be innovating and we just might be the last to notice.

Want to learn more about impostor syndrome? Here are some resources and articles:

Wayne Sy youth leader

Wayne Sy is a member of YTH’s Youth Advisory Board.

He is an advocate for social justice for the queer community and for communities of color, with plans to attend medical school and become a physician leading groundbreaking research on HIV and AIDS. +Learn more about Wayne


Creative Commons image by Romain Toornier.



tags: , , , , .

ZonaSegura ZonaSegura is a trauma-informed youth-centered innovative mobile solution to address teen dating violence in Honduras. Learn more about ZonaSegura on our program page.