What is impostor syndrome?
Have you ever felt like your friends and co-workers were going to discover that you’re a fraud and that you really don’t deserve your job? If you have, you’re not alone. First identified in 1978, impostor syndrome is the feeling that you’ve only succeeded because of luck, not because of your skills and experience. According to an article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, approximately 70% of people experience impostor feelings at some point in their lives.
Who is affected?
While initial research indicated that mainly women were affected, more recent studies suggest that both men and women are just as susceptible. Studies of impostor syndrome 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 famous people like Maya Angelou and Tina Fey have suffered from impostor syndrome. Maya Angelou once said, “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.” Tina Fey believes that “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.”
Why do people experience it?
There isn’t one single answer to why people experience impostor syndrome. Some experts believe it is associated with certain personality traits like perfectionism. Others think that one’s childhood could play a role. If you grew up with a talented sibling, you might develop feelings of inadequacy. Alternatively, if you were identified as “the smart one” you might feel like a fraud when you have to strive to achieve something. Certain situations, like a new challenge or getting a promotion, can also trigger these impostor feelings.
Why is it a good thing?
Most articles discuss how negative impostor syndrome is, but it can actually be a good thing.
Here are some reasons why:
- Indicates you’re challenging yourself: if you’re interested in personal growth and development, you will always be pushing yourself into new and unexplored territories. When things are new, we don’t feel as comfortable as we are doing something we’ve been doing for the last 15 years. You aren’t growing as a human being if you aren’t pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.
- Keeps your ego in check: feeling like an impostor can be a good thing because it won’t allow your ego to become overinflated. When your ego takes over, you tend to get comfortable and avoid potential unknowns. This way, you won’t take opportunities for granted and will be open to learning new things so you can continue to sharpen your skills and experience.
- Signals that you’re gaining experience: there’s a famous quote from Aristotle, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Several experts believe that impostor syndrome arises as a result of becoming more accomplished at what you do. Basically, it could be a sign that you are learning more and getting better at your craft which is something to celebrate.
How can you deal with it?
- Find a support system: find sources of encouragement around you. Turn to family, friends and mentors and surround yourself with a group of people who believe in you. Save all those glowing performance reviews from your supervisor so you can pull them out later when Mr. Impostor Syndrome rears his ugly head.
- Stop comparing yourself to others: thanks to sites like Facebook and Instagram, it’s very easy to compare ourselves to others. Try to resist that urge and instead recognize that no one is perfect. Trust in your performance and celebrate your wins.
- Tune out the noise: experts say we have 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day so try to listen to the positive ones and tune out the rest. For many people, self-doubt will always be there; it’s just a matter of continuing to move forward in spite of it. Reward 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: it’s critical to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable to be a successful entrepreneur. This concept applies to anyone experiencing impostor syndrome. Life can be unpredictable, and you won’t always feel ready for every challenge that arises. The key to success is to keep moving forward in spite of any fears that may get in your way. Remember, a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing will ever grow there.
To summarize, if Mr. Impostor Syndrome emerges from the shadows, just acknowledge him and keep moving in the direction of your dreams!