What do Emma Watson, Neil Gaiman, Sheryl Sandberg, Maya Angelou and Tom Hanks all have in common? They have all succumbed to the self-destructive thinking that results from ‘Impostor Syndrome’. If you put your own successes down to luck, constantly feel like a fraud and worry that people may suddenly realize you are a sham, you might have a touch of it too.
Despite initial thoughts that Impostor Syndrome was predominantly a female problem, it actually impacts both men and women equally. It is, however, thought to be much worse in high striving individuals who are more critical of themselves than they are of others. Sound familiar?
What Causes It?
Seriously, who knows? What we do know is that Impostor Syndrome can often come on when you feel you are being judged by others. This could be in academic situations, or when you first start a new job. The opportunities that social media opens up for us to compare our own lives to those of others may also be a contributing factor. As Kyle Eschenroeder (StartUpBros blog) points out:
This problem is only getting worse as more of us rely on our online presences. We’re in this weird culture where you’ve got to sell yourself aggressively while remaining “authentic”. You think you need to be perfect but you also need to feel free to fail. You need to be yourself and more!
Allowing self doubt to dominate your thinking only makes things worse. These thoughts will probably never fully go away – especially if you’ve lived with them for a while. But there are ways to manage them.
Managing Impostor Syndrome
Be realistic. So if you have Impostor Syndrome, good for you, because it’s a sure sign you are not going to settle for “just good enough” and will always do your best. BUT, make sure you can distinguish between doing your very best and being the best. They are different. You know when you have given 110%. But what (or who) is your benchmark when you are trying to be the best? Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump (only joking!)?
Accept the role you have had in your own success to date. So what if there are people who have far less opportunities than you who have made good? There are also a lot of people who have had far more and still managed to bugger things up! Life is about choices and you have clearly made some good ones to get to where you are today. Celebrate that success.
Stop comparing yourself to others. It is a waste of time and you probably don’t know enough about the other person to really know what is going on with them. I have been astonished to find the people I have been incredibly intimidated by were actually riddled with insecurities of their own. Everyone deals with adversity of one kind or another. Just because you don’t know about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t going on. Being vulnerable and actually admitting to those you can trust that you have self-doubt will probably bring those people closer. Voicing your concerns also makes them less scary. This is because you have let others know how you feel and yet they have not gone running off to tell the world the ‘terrible truth’ about you.
Don’t take yourself so seriously. It is more than likely no-one is thinking as much about whether you belong or not than you are. Everyone is far too busy dealing with their own challenges to pay any attention to your own worthiness. Do your best, contribute when you can and you will move forward. Believe in that process. It is as old as time.
Appreciate your own contributions. Appreciating the work of others is important and valued, but don’t underestimate yourself at the expense of those around you. Recognize the important part you play in any situation and have as much respect for that as you have for the contributions of others. If you find yourself in a situation where your contributions are constantly being overlooked, then it is time to ask whether you are in the right spot.
Think “What’s the worse that can happen?”. If you are worried about trying something new that could lead to failure and therefore expose you as the fraud you have felt all along – ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen? Will you lose your friends, your family, your health, your ability to start again having learned something new? If none of these apply, then take the risk. Challenging your fear will only decrease its power over you.
If you have stories to share that you think would help others with Impostor Syndrome then connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Author: Juliette Prouse