So you finally reached a point in your life where you’re starting to feel accomplished, successful, and competent! You’ve worked hard, honed your skills and taken advantage of your opportunities, when suddenly it hits. A persistent and internalized fear comes over you that this is all wrong and somebody is going to find out you’re a fraud and call you out on it! You feel like you don’t belong in this role and the only reason you got here is by luck or circumstance. What just happened?!
You’ve been struck by Imposter Syndrome. This phenomenon was first described by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance, who coined the phrase. It generally affects high achieving individuals who find it hard to accept their success and achievements. They feel that they are undeserving of the recognition and status they are receiving. Despite evidence of their competence, they seem to think they have somehow fooled people into believing in them and then feel guilty about it.
Does Anyone Else Feel Like This?
Numbers vary, but studies show that as much as 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their careers. Business professionals, writers, actors, artists and inventors are just a few that find themselves questioning their credibility and skills to perform their jobs. Even some of the most successful people like Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou and Lady Gaga have questioned their own abilities, and feel undeserving of the admiration and success they have achieved.
Imposter Syndrome can leave you feeling isolated, as if you don’t belong. It can be a difficult experience to deal with, especially if you don’t know what’s happening and why you feel this way. But knowing that many other people have been through the very same thing can be comforting.
But what’s really happening here? And what can be done about it?
Talk to Someone
One place to start might be to talk to someone. Shedding some light in a dark headspace can help illuminate the negative thoughts that say you’re not good enough. By sharing these feelings with a trusted mentor or manager, you may be able to release some of your worries and see things more clearly. Talking about it, instead of trying to hide it, might help put things into perspective. Reviewing the goals you set and the steps you took to reach them could help you acknowledge your hard work and the skills you have gained along the way.
Let Go of Perfectionism
People with Imposter Syndrome tend to be high achievers. They have elevated expectations of themselves and sometimes struggle with perfectionism. Whether you’ve been influenced by others that insisted on perfection or whether you arrived at this perspective on your own over time, it’s worth reflecting on.
Author Michael Law wrote,
“At its root perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of Success.”
Confront your fears head on and acknowledge them. Then you can begin to dissect the real reasons behind your emotions, and begin to challenge your thinking.
Examine your strengths and weaknesses. By looking at your strong points, you can see where they help you to excel. By considering where you may be lacking, you’ll know where to focus your energy to do better. Athlete Kim Collins said,
“Strive for continuous improvement instead of perfection.”
Pushing yourself to the point where you can never accept that it’s good enough won’t produce the results you are looking for.
Convert Fear to Excitement
Now that you have some idea of what’s really going on when you feel like an Imposter, you can change the way you label fear. There’s a fine line between fear and excitement, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. When you’re feeling those emotions, ask yourself which one it is. Is there really anything to fear? Do the facts support that? Or is it really excitement? Are you excited that you’ve reached such a high level of achievement?
If you’re feeling some degree of stress, unsure of the next step to take, could you re-label that as a “challenge” rather than “scary”? Instead of feeling inadequate, could you get excited about the opportunity to learn more, while maintaining the belief that you’ve already come this far?
Once you understand yourself, you can start to realize that the Imposter feeling inside of you can be a friend, if you let it. It’s pointing to some insecurities that, when acknowledged and redirected, can help you to calm your nerves, be your authentic self, and move forward with confidence. You did the work and you deserve to be here.
Can Imposter Syndrome ever be a good thing? Well, in some cases, it can be! It may help you to see how far you’ve come and where you want to go. It can motivate you to continue learning and keep up with modern trends and programs.
Keeping your emotions in perspective, learn to accept your feelings. Instead of always trying to fit in, focus on how unique you are, and find your individual strengths. Maybe you do things differently than others, but that doesn’t mean you are wrong.
It can sometimes be difficult to accept your own successes. Some artists can strive over a painting for so long that it loses its original beauty. Artist Andy Warhol said,
“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they’re deciding, make even more art.”
Know Your Worth
Once you realize your Inner Imposter is missing information that truly credits your skills and accomplishments, you can begin to overcome those feelings of inadequacy. Stop listening to the downward spiraling dialog that tells you that you’re not good enough. Civil Rights Advocate, Elijah Cummings, stated,
“You must have confidence in your competence.”
When you think about something, one half second before you think it, you decide to think it. So it is possible to think a different thought by choice. Author Christine Padesky writes,
“Change the way you feel by changing the way you think.”
You control your thoughts. Your thoughts do not control you.
Whenever you begin to feel like you’re not who everyone thinks you are, STOP. Replace those thoughts with authentic praise. Be kind to yourself. When you track your successes and let go of perfectionism, you begin to see a more realistic picture.
It doesn’t matter what someone else thinks or says about your performance. The facts that document your skills and accomplishments speak for themselves.
When that voice pops into your head that shakes your foundation and causes you to doubt yourself, it’s time to take a step back and see it for what it is. Accept that it’s okay to be a success. Don’t undermine your efforts.
Some people fear success because they think others might be jealous of them, or their relationships with peers may change because of their success. Never hold yourself back because of other people. You can always give them a hand up to join you on your path of success. But holding yourself back will only lead to depression and resentment. Author Paulo Coelho wrote,
“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
You never know when the success you achieve will inspire others to do the same.
Imposter Syndrome may make you feel like you have no right to be the success you are, and the whole world is pointing their fingers at you and laughing.
Humorous Social Commentator, Will Rogers popularized this sentiment that has been attributed to many authors over the years, saying,
“When you’re 20 you care about what everyone thinks of you. When you’re 40 you don’t care what people think of you. And when you’re 60 you realize people were too busy thinking of themselves, and weren’t thinking about you at all.”
By talking about your feelings, accepting your success and knowing your worth, you can work through Imposter Syndrome and get back on track. Show up, do your best, and let go of the outcome.
Remember that you are the greatest project you will ever work on. If you’re doing good, don’t be afraid to own it!