What is imposter syndrome and who does it affect?
Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? Like your friends and co-workers were going to discover that you’re a fraud just playing a part and that you really don’t deserve your job?
Have you heard that little voice in your head that says things like:
“I don’t deserve to be here.”
“Why would they want to listen to me?”
“What was I thinking?”
If you have, you’re not alone. Imposter syndrome, first identified in 1978, is the feeling that you’ve only succeeded because of luck, not because of your skills and experience. An estimated 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their lives, according to an article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science. While the initial research theorized that mainly women were affected, more recent research suggests that both men and women are just as susceptible. Studies of the phenomenon show that men are just as likely as women to feel like they aren’t qualified for their jobs — they just aren’t as likely to talk about it. In fact, many highly accomplished and very famous people have suffered from imposter syndrome.
Here are just a few examples:
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”
“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.”
“I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”
” I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Why do people experience it?
There isn’t one single answer. Some experts believe it is linked with certain personality traits like perfectionism or neuroticism. Others believe that one’s upbringing could play a role. For example, if you grew up with a gifted sibling, you may develop feelings of inadequacy. Or, if you were labeled as “the smart one” you might develop imposter syndrome when you have to struggle to achieve something. Certain situations, like a new challenge or getting a promotion, can also trigger feelings of being an imposter. For example, if you leave the corporate world as a middle manager and then start your own company or change careers to a completely new field, you might be prone to imposter syndrome.
Why is it a good thing?
Most articles out there talk about how negative these feelings of being an imposter can be. But when viewed correctly, imposter syndrome can actually be a good thing.
Here are some reasons why:
- Indicates you’re pushing yourself: if you’re interested in personal growth and development, naturally you will be constantly pushing yourself into new and unfamiliar territories. When things are new, we don’t feel as comfortable as we are doing something we’ve been doing for the last 10 years. Think about it, if you aren’t pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, you aren’t growing as a human being.
- Keeps your ego in check: feeling like an impostor can serve as a benefit because it won’t allow your ego to become overinflated. When your ego takes over, comfort becomes the driving force which leads you to play it safe and avoid any potential unknowns. This way, you won’t be prone to taking opportunities for granted and will be open to learning new things in order to continue to hone your skills and experience.
- Signals that you’re gaining expertise: there’s a famous quote from Aristotle, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Many experts believe that imposter syndrome arises as a result of becoming more proficient at what you do. Essentially, it could be a sign that you are learning more and getting better at your craft – that’s something to celebrate.
How can I deal with it?
- Find encouragement: find sources of encouragement around you. Turn to family, friends and mentors when you have moments of doubt and surround yourself with a tribe of people who believe in you. Save all those positive emails and glowing performance reviews from your boss so you can pull them out later when Mr. Imposter Syndrome comes calling.
- Stop comparing yourself to others: these days, thanks to sites like Facebook and Instagram, it’s all too easy for us to constantly compare ourselves to others. I mean, there are days where I compare myself to Marie Forleo and then later I think, “What am I doing?!?! She was on Oprah!” Try to turn off the constant comparing because all it does is deplete your energy. Instead recognize that no one is perfect. Trust in your knowledge and hard work and celebrate your successes.
- Tune out the noise: experts say we have 60-80,000 thoughts a day so choose to listen to the positive ones and tune out the rest. For many of us, self-doubt will always be there, it’s just a matter of continuing to move forward in spite of it. Acknowledge yourself when you’ve done great work, focus on the value you provide and maintain a consistent habit of mindfulness and reflection.
- Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable: in a previous blog, I talked about how it’s important to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable in order to be a successful entrepreneur. This concept applies to anyone with imposter syndrome. Life can be unpredictable and we’re not always going to feel ready for every challenge that comes along. The key to success is to continue moving forward in spite of any doubts or fears that may get in our way. Remember, a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.
In a nutshell, if Mr. Imposter Syndrome starts to rear his ugly head, just acknowledge him and keep moving in the direction of your goals!
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