Imposter No More, Dealing With Impostor Syndrome


Imposter No More, Dealing With Impostor Syndrome~Guest Blogger Michael Hodge Jr. CFI

The DPE extended his hand with a smile and with a hearty “Congratulations” and a firm handshake, he handed me my temporary certificate which had words that I had waited a long time to see, “Flight Instructor - Airplane Single Engine”. After nearly six months of studying at home, teaching over forty hours of ground instruction to members of our flying club, and spending many hours “teaching” in the air, by many accounts, I was ready. Within a week of passing my checkride I had my first discovery flight scheduled and I was anxious to jump in feet first. There was only one problem. I didn’t “feel” ready, and in fact, I felt woefully unprepared.

I started wondering if I had what it took to be a good flight instructor. Would I be able to see the bad landing coming before it happened? Would I be able to help my learners through their bouts of anxiety, learning plateaus, and even a defense mechanism or two? Most importantly, would I be able to provide value to the learner and keep the process of learning to fly fun and efficient?

At the time, it wasn’t easy to see why I was feeling the way I was, but in hindsight, these thoughts were tell-tale signs of “Imposter Syndrome”. Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where an individual doubts their skills or accomplishments, and can even have a fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. This definitely fit how I was feeling, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get past it.

It wasn’t until my discovery flight later in the week that I had my first “aha” moment. As I'm talking this prospective learner through how to taxi the airplane, I notice that they are checking off all the common errors I had previously learned about…and did myself. Trying to steer with their hands, riding the brakes, using runup levels of throttle to get moving, etc. As we are doing s-turns down the taxiway centerline, it struck me…I can teach everyone something. That single thought went a long way toward helping me overcome my imposter syndrome. It didn’t matter if it was a brand new private pilot applicant who clearly had a lot to learn or a seasoned 10,000+ hour ATP, there was always something I could do to help them take away something of value from our lesson….even if all that was was reminding them to not flare at 50ft AGL.

The second “aha” moment presented itself after weeks of careful self-reflection. For some, the CFI certificate is a stepping stone, but for me, it was the goal. I’ve always loved the idea of helping someone achieve their dreams, and I really just wanted to be the absolute best flight instructor I could be. The problem was that in my brain I replaced the word “best” with “perfect” and added all of the expectations that went along with it. My inner thoughts quickly became a battleground between the logical and emotional sides of my brain, both vying for victory. The logical side of my brain recognized that mastering the art of teaching, like the art of flying, will be a lifelong endeavor. The emotional side of my brain wanted to latch onto every stumble, stutter, and misspoken word with a reminder that I wasn’t quite good enough. Once I recognized that I was trying to hold myself to an unobtainable standard, it helped me reframe my expectations of myself as an instructor.

For new instructors, Imposter Syndrome can be a common occurrence. If it happens to you, I’d encourage you to do a few things. First, I’d encourage you to remember that this is normal and to step back and ask why you are feeling that way? If a new learner came to you and told you they were really scared of doing stalls, your response (I hope) wouldn’t be to say, “Don’t worry about it, they aren’t a big deal”. It would be to ask why. What is it about stalls that make you nervous? Once you know why the learner is anxious, you can create a plan to help them through it. The same thing with Imposter Syndrome. Try to ask yourself why you are feeling that way and then start there.

The second thing I’d encourage is to simply give yourself a little grace. If you had a learner upset because they couldn’t nail landings after the first lesson, you’d encourage them to be patient. You’d explain that landings take time to master and that everyone struggles with them at first. Teaching is no different. The reality is that while the private pilot certificate is a “license to learn”, the CFI rating is a “license to learn how to teach” and it’s going to take a lot of time (and mistakes) to hone your craft and build your confidence. So try to embrace the process, rather than rush through it and recognize that you will overcome this as well.

Finally, remember that the mark of a good instructor isn’t that you can recite every FAR by memory, or teach every lesson to perfection or that you have 20,000+ hours of dual given. The mark of a good instructor is simpler than all of that. Are you empathetic to your learner's needs? Do you put 100% into each lesson you teach? Are you making an active effort to create well-rounded, risk-averse pilots? Those are the qualities that make up a good flight instructor and as long as you are doing that on a consistent basis, you can rest assured that you’re doing a great job. Knowing that makes it easier to then silence that voice of self-doubt when it does speak up.


Michael HodgeMichael Hodge Jr. CFI
NAFI #224515






Blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace independent, professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the author individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinions or position of the National Association of Flight Instructors. NAFI does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented. Readers should note content may appear in various media, including print, email, enews without further notice.
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Comments on "Imposter No More, Dealing With Impostor Syndrome"

Comments 0-5 of 2

John Niehaus - Thursday, July 27, 2023

It is true though admittedly I still think this happens to me on particularly difficult days.

Manpreet Singh - Thursday, October 06, 2022

Thanks for the share Micahel. Very well written. I have been teaching CFI applicants for a while now, and yes, this imposter syndrome is in fact very common. Usually, most suffer from it only until their CFI checkride. As soon as the checkride is over, they are over it as well. But for others, this takes a much longer time.

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