Let’s Talk About Imposter Syndrome

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With final exams coming up (and with it the end of my hardest semester yet), I feel that today is as good a time as any to address a feeling that plagues many: Imposter Syndrome.

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What is imposter syndrome?

The term “imposter syndrome” was coined in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, two American psychologists. It’s basically a feeling of self-doubt that stems from natural humility. Yes, humility is healthy, but it becomes a problem when it starts becoming a detriment to your personal self-acceptance.

Clance and Imes described imposter syndrome as a sense of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable, or creative despite evidence of high achievement” (source). It’s when you feel that you don’t entirely know what you’re doing, you’ve somehow lucked out or tricked everyone else into believing you’re more competent or skilled than you truly are, and someone is going to find out your secret eventually. It’s “the feeling that you’re a fraud [who’s] somehow less qualified than your peers, less deserving of success, and that you’ll be ‘found out’ if you don’t work longer and harder than everyone else” (source).

These feelings aren’t unique to college students. They’re probably more common in people with careers, actually. Have you ever heard of the saying along the lines of stupid people don’t know they’re stupid? That’s kind of relevant in imposter syndrome. In fact, high achievers are more likely to suffer from this self-doubt. It’s not uncommon among celebrities, CEOs, or even presidents. It plagues people across a variety of demographics. No matter your background, you are capable of success; sometimes, you just don’t feel like you earned or deserved that success.

How do you know if you’re experiencing imposter syndrome?

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I recently found a quick quiz (which you can take here) that I think is a good indicator of your level of severity of imposter syndrome, if you suffer at all.

Some common symptoms can be both mental and behavioral. In addition to the basic feelings described in the definition above, some people find themselves unable to accept praise or have anxiety in situations where they feel they are being evaluated. They may not feel comfortable asking questions and may avoid speaking up when they have an idea or suggestion. They also find themselves constantly needing external validation. Additionally, most people suffer in silence, which only worsens the problem!

Why do people suffer?

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Everyone is different, but the most common reasons have to do with self-confidence.

You attribute your success to everything except your own abilities.

You don’t take time to celebrate your accomplishments. You continue to raise the bar as soon as you reach it.

You have tunnel vision. You only notice your mistakes or areas that could use improvement at the expense of refusing to recognize what you do well.

You play down your accomplishments. You think you should’ve done better and therefore shouldn’t be receiving any recognition of achievement.

You compare yourself to others, especially to the most outstanding person in the office, the kid with the highest test average, or (especially) a Nobel Prize winner.

You need to move past these negative thoughts. Other people are successful, sure, but they aren’t you and your success. Don’t ever, ever minimize, overlook, belittle, or discredit anything you have accomplished, even if it’s something small.

How can you overcome it?

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Never stop learning.

So you feel that you don’t know enough? You don’t think you have enough practice? Fix it! Find courses online, take classes at a community college, or increase your reading. Never stop bettering yourself!

Acknowledge that you have weaknesses and that’s okay.

Knowing your weaknesses is just as important as knowing your strengths. They will tell you what you can work on and how to use them to help you succeed!

Everyone has them. If there’s one thing I learned from Hannah Montana, it’s that nobody’s perfect! 😉

Accept compliments without trying to disprove them

Someone took the time to commend you on something you did well. Why would you want to lower yourself by telling them all the reasons why they’re wrong and you are “undeserving” of that applause? Learn to accept compliments gracefully and with appreciation. Digest them and use them to as a measure of how you’re doing. Use them as validation, but also

Learn to validate yourself.

If you’re like me, you can’t do anything without verifying it with someone else. This is not good! Learn to trust yourself and your own opinions. Confident people don’t constantly seek confirmation for every little thing they do. They also don’t need someone to constantly tell them when they’ve done a good job!

A technique I read about here is to reverse your “yes, buts…”. For example, “change ‘I brought in accounts but she brought in more,’ to ‘Even though she brought in more accounts, I brought in many myself.’”

Grow comfortable with who you are.

When you’re confident in yourself, you don’t need validation from anyone. You will be less likely to feel like you’re going through life alone. Above all, you’ll have confidence in your abilities and what you are capable of achieving, therefore eliminating imposter syndrome!

Obviously this is easier said than done and it can take a good amount of time to reach the point where your imposter syndrome is gone completely. Just know the line between confident and arrogant- confidence can get you the job, arrogance will help you bomb the interview.

Don’t isolate yourself.

Imposter syndrome is an isolation mechanism. it works by making you think you’re surrounded by perfect people. They may all look like they have their life together, but I promise you aren’t the only one feeling that yours isn’t. Stop yourself from pushing everyone away and closing in on yourself. If your feelings of inadequacy are taking over your life, you need to talk to someone!

Pluralistic Ignorance is also applicable. This is the belief that everyone around you has different opinions and experiences from your own simply because they don’t say otherwise. Have you ever been hesitant to ask a question in class because you feel like you’re the only one that doesn’t understand? Pluralistic ignorance at work.

Identify what you’re truly afraid of.

Are you cutting yourself short because you’re scared of what you can achieve? By determining what fear is holding you back, you can identify ways to combat it. This kind of fear can also be a stress reaction, so spending time on separating fear from anxiety from stress can lead you to recognize what areas of your professional (or personal) life you should focus on.

Keep a living resume.

This will help you actualize “your skills, accomplishments, and experiences to understand your success” (via). If you have an “inventory” of your achievements, you can remind yourself of why you deserve the recognition that you have. If you have a logical mind, this is your list of evidence as to why you aren’t a fraud!

*LinkedIn can be great for this!*

Enjoy your life and what you do.

You don’t have to be serious all the time! You don’t have to stare at your computer for 8 hours a day without ever cracking a smile to prove that you’re dedicated to your work. You won’t be seen as any less of a hard worker unless you goof off more than you actually get your work done. Find that balance and work will be so much more enjoyable.

 

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You don’t have to be “the best” to be successful. You don’t have to earn the most money or have the fanciest title to prove you know your stuff. You got where you are today because that’s what you earned and don’t you ever convince yourself otherwise!

“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

 

~How do you deal with imposter syndrome?

 

Read more about my experience with imposter syndrome here and it’s relevance to professional development here.

 

References from The Huffington Post, The Shriver Report, The New York Times

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