“Impostor Syndrome” is a topic that has been popping up everywhere around me, it’s like it is trying to slap me in the face saying “it’s time to talk about me NOW!”
That’s when I decided to deepen my research, so I could write this post. One of the most interesting things I found was an abundance of TED talks on the topic.
An issue for high achievers
I could not believe how many unbelievably successful people have already shared publicly about their Impostor Syndrome. How did this get past me? I so could have done with this already a few years ago, but better late than never, right?
So, in case the topic has been eluding you so far, here’s a quick summary of what I’m talking about:
Impostor Syndrome is the feeling that you are not good enough or qualified enough for what you are doing, coupled with a fear of being found out.
Ironically most of the people affected are very accomplished and qualified.
It doesn’t have to apply to all areas of your life. You can feel perfectly confident and competent in one thing and feel totally out of your depth in another.
The funny thing is, that people looking at you from the outside, often think that you totally know what you’re doing, but believe themselves to be in over their heads.
Impostor Syndrome is widespread
In fact, it seems to be an epidemic! There are different numbers floating around. Wikipedia cites a study in the UK that identified 85% of respondents as suffering from Impostor Syndrome. (So that’s leaving a little bit of wiggle room for the opposite type of people who are hugely confident without actually knowing what they are doing – but I digress).
Women seem to be affected more than men, which is likely due to the fact that in our society women are often taught to be more humble and self-deprecating. Nonetheless, if you do a little research, you will also find plenty of very successful men, who suffer from Impostor Syndrome.
Now imagine that 85% of people around you deal with self-doubt, too. (I’m just making a presumption here that you’re “one of us”. After all, there’s a very big chance that you are.) For me, this was a huge source of comfort, because I often felt alone in this.
The good news is that beyond being aware of Impostor Syndrome, there are things that you can do about it.
Your strategies to beat Impostor Syndrome
- It’s actually not really a “syndrome” (i.e. a medical condition), but rather a “phenomenon”. Good news. If you’ve got it, you’re not sick.
- Negative self-talk is not something that you have to accept as “the truth”. It helps to recognise this as thoughts coming up that you can choose to believe or not believe.
- When you notice negative thoughts coming up and you find it hard to disbelieve these thoughts, you can add some positive thoughts, that are “also true”. E.g. “I may not have a lot of experience in this field, but it’s also true that I’ve always been a fast learner!”
- Say the words out loud that are going through your head. You may realise how “out there” it sounds when you actually put it “out there”.
- You can give your inner critic a name and treat them like a person, that you can argue against.
- You can make a plan to become more competent in the field that you feel so uncertain about. What do you need to get better? What can you practice?
- You can share your concerns with someone you trust. Realising that other people struggle with the same kind of thoughts and also have to figure things out as they go along, can make you feel better. This can be hard, because the fear of being found out is strong and there are instances where sharing your fears may not be appropriate (e.g. in a job interview).
- Impostor Syndrome can be triggered by a negative comment from someone else. Remember that this is one person’s opinion and not the truth of who you are and what you’re capable of. It’s also good to distinguish between criticism of something you’ve done vs. who you are as a person. Spoiler alert: it’s not the same thing.
- If you’re a perfectionist, dealing with Impostor Syndrome can be particularly stressful, because your expectations for your work are likely to be truly unrealistic. Give yourself a reality check: are you meeting the demands of your job vs. the demands of your inner perfectionist? Look for examples of other un-perfect people thriving in their roles.
- You can get help. Sometimes it’s difficult to pull yourself out of the rut by yourself. Remember that there are coaches and other resources out there to help you.
Have you ever dealt with Impostor Syndrome? What are your experiences? What are the strategies that help you?