- Do you secretly worry that others will find out that you’re not as bright and capable as they think you are?
- Do you sometimes shy away from challenges because of nagging self-doubt?
- Do you tend to chalk your accomplishments up to being a “fluke,” “no big deal”?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be suffering from Imposter Syndrome or impostorism. And you are not alone. Believe it or not, Imposter Syndrome is very common and research suggests that around 70 percent of adults’ experience it at least once in their lifetime.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
According to Harvard Busines Review, Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. People who suffer from it (‘Imposters) usually experience severe feelings of self-doubt or a sense of being a fraud that outweighs any feelings of success or evidence of their accomplishments. And as they struggle with doubt about their competence, skills and talents, imposters find it difficult to accept that they are worthy of the admiration and regard of others.
Maya Angelou (Nobel Laureate and World-Renowned Writer) is an excellent example of highly talented people who suffered from imposter syndrome. Throughout her career, she expressed feeling underserving of her many achievements and having great difficulty celebrating her successes. Many other brilliant people (Including Albert Einstein), famous celebrities, world class athletes, successful entrepreneurs also admit to feelings of doubt about whether they are worthy of the high esteem and value people attach to them. The same is true for the ordinary people you encounter in everyday life who discount their value and abilities and modestly attribute their contributions or achievements to luck or chance.
Although imposters doubt themselves and do not feel deserving of the accolades they receive; this does not mean that they lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem. On the contrary, people who suffer from imposter syndrome tend to perfectionists. And because they do not see themselves and their efforts as perfect, they believe that others will see their imperfections and realize that they are frauds or not as good as they seem.
Effects of Imposter Syndrome
So, what does Imposter Syndrome look like in everyday life?
According to Harvard Business Review, some of the common things that imposter think and say usually include:
- “I must not fail”: Here imposters put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to not fail or to avoid being “found out. This causes them to work harder and longer and therefore leads to an inability to enjoy their success.
- “I feel like a fake”: Imposters believe they do not deserve success or professional accolades and feel that somehow others have been deceived into thinking otherwise. They believe they give the impression that they are more competent than they are and have deep feelings that they lack knowledge or expertise.
- “It’s all down to luck”: The tendency to attribute success to luck or to other external reasons and not their abilities is a clear indicator of imposter syndrome. Imposters may typically say or think: “I just got lucky” or “it was a fluke”. Often this masks the fear that they will not be able to succeed the next time.
- “Success is no big deal”: This is the tendency to downplay success and discount it. They might attribute their success to it being an easy task or having support and often have a hard time accepting compliments.
Additionally, when people see themselves as imposters, they avoid speaking up and sharing their ideas because they do not think they are valuable. They might even question whether they “fit” or belong in the rooms in which they find themselves. People who suffer from imposter syndrome might also miss out on opportunities for promotion and advancement because they do not believe that they are qualified for positions that are within their scope or area of expertise. The same is true for dating relationships where a man or woman might not ‘shoot their shot” with the the person they are interested in, because they believe the person is way out of their league. Regardless of the scenario, the self-limiting thoughts and doubts associated with impostorism, have led many to procrastinate in moving towards the direction of their goals and dreams – be it starting that business, writing that book, making a career decision or better yet a personal one.
How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is not about having low self-esteem, being depressed, suffering from anxiety or lacking self-confidence. It mostly about the never-ending pressure that some people put on themselves to get better and the self-perpetuated feeling of incompetence and self-doubt that persist despite their efforts and achievements. As such, the biggest difference between imposters and non-imposters is how they think and what they say to themselves.
So, what can you do to deal with Imposter Syndrome?
Here are 10 tips from a leading expert on imposter syndrome that might help you overcome it:
- Break the silence: Shame keeps a lot of people from “fessing up” about their fraudulent feelings. Knowing there’s a name for these feelings and that you are not alone can be tremendously freeing.
- Separate feelings from fact: There are times you’ll feel stupid. It happens to everyone from time to time. Realize that just because you may feel stupid, doesn’t mean you are.
- Recognize when you should feel fraudulent: If you’re one of the first or the few women or minorities in your field or workplace it’s only natural you’d sometimes feel like you don’t totally fit in. Instead of taking your self-doubt as a sign of your ineptness, recognize that it might be a normal response to being an outsider.
- Accentuate the positive: Perfectionism can indicate a healthy drive to excel. The trick is to not obsess over everything being just so. Do a great job when it matters most. Forgive yourself when the inevitable mistake happens.
- Develop a new response to failure and mistake making: Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for being human for blowing the big project, do what professional athletes do and glean the learning value from the mistake and move on.
- Right the rules: If you’ve been operating under misguided rules like, “I should always know the answer,” -stop. Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong, have an off-day, or ask for assistance.
- Develop a new script: Your script is that automatic mental tapes that starts playing in situations that trigger your Impostor feelings. When you start a new job or project for example, instead of thinking for example, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” try thinking, “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.”
- Visualize success: Do what professional athletes do. Spend time beforehand picturing yourself making a successful presentation or calmly posing your question in class. It sure beats picturing impending disaster and will help with performance-related stress.
- Reward yourself: Break the cycle of continually seeking and then dismissing validation outside of yourself by learning to pat yourself on the back.
- Fake it ‘til you make it: Now and then we all have to fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of considering “winging it” as proof of your ineptness learn to do what many high achievers do and view it as a skill. Don’t wait until you feel confident to start putting yourself out there. Courage comes from taking risks. Change your behavior first and allow your confidence to build.
Imposter syndrome can help keep you humble and honest as you work towards becoming a better version of yourself. But don’t let it cripple you. You might never be able to eliminate it, but you can certainly manage it. Practice telling yourself a different set of messages- you are smart enough, your experiences are just as important, your ideas and insights are relevant. As Michelle Obama once said, stop questioning if you belong at the table and recognize that you are needed at that table.
Until next time, Remember, It’sALearningLife!