Ever felt like a fraud? That you don’t deserve to be the position you hold? Thought one day someone’s going to find out? Welcome, my friends, to imposter syndrome.
Last week, I taught a self-compassion class to a group of community leaders together with a colleague. My colleague courageously shared both her own personal challenges and those of others she knows, of living with imposter syndrome. That courage gave others permission to share their challenges too. I discovered imposter syndrome isn’t something just a few people suffer from - it’s the majority. So, I began to investigate, and here’s what I discovered...
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".
Thinking in this way, II most strongly experienced imposter syndrome when I got my first contract to write a book.
Here’s what my mind said:
‘I can’t write a book!’
‘What if I get it wrong?’
‘I’ve just fluked it...I was just lucky’.
‘There’s loads of other people that could do a better job than me. Why me?’
These thoughts, and thousands more like them! Similar thoughts arise when I have other opportunities too. Chances to speak in front of large audiences, invitations to coach successful individuals and when being paid well for my skills.
I wouldn’t say these thoughts have completely gone away. But I’ve slowly learnt to see them for what they are, and continue doing what I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t even be writing to you right now!
You’re not alone
Part of what keeps imposter syndrome going is believing you’re the only one with imposter syndrome. Let me help you stop that myth.
Here’s some well-known people being honest enough to admit they feel like frauds, imposters or feel like they’ve just been lucky.
“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” - Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization
Well known personalities admitting to having imposter syndrome include Natalie Portman, Seth Godin, Ryan Reynolds, Meryl Streep, Lady Gaga and Tom Hanks to name a few.
Once you see this list of impressive and seemingly highly confident people, you begin to see how imposter syndrome can be hiding behind the most successful personalities. No one is immune to the feeling of not being good enough. And that’s what makes us human and that’s ok.
Numerous studies suggest nearly 70% of individuals will experience signs and symptoms of impostor phenomenon at least once in their life.
Recognising Imposter Syndrome
Let’s be clear about the signs to look out for if you think you may also have some imposter syndrome going on. Have a look through and see if any of these ‘characters’ come and visit you:
Feelings of not being good enough
Thinking "I don't deserve this."
Being worried you can't live to others' expectations.
Focusing on mistakes rather than on your achievements.
Being a perfectionist
Thinking your work is so easy, anyone could do it
Thinking your talents or strengths are nothing special.
Believing that if you were to start over, you wouldn't have the luck, talent or skills to replicate your current success.
Here’s some patterns noticed by Imposter Syndrome Expert Valerie Young:
‘Perfectionists’ set very high standards for themselves. And so even if they meet 99% of what’s required, they’ll feel they are not good enough, and don’t deserve the success they get.
‘Experts’ may feel they need to know every little thing about a subject, and may keep applying for more and more qualifications to prove to themselves they’ll knowledgable enough to work with others. Job applicants may feel they need to meet every single criteria in a job advert to get the position. Anything missing and they won’t apply - even though they may actually be great in that position
‘Natural geniuses’ are used to achieving goals with little or no effort. And so as soon as they need to put more effort than usual to achieve success, they feel something is very wrong and label themselves as imposters
‘Soloists’ feel they need to do everything on their own. Asking for help makes them feel like a failure or fraud
‘Supermen or Superwomen’ feel they need to push themselves harder than others, to prove to themselves they are not imposter. They need to be highly successful at home, work, family, relationships and if they aren’t, they feel like failures.
And the syndrome can have an impact on your work. Research on 200 professionals found people with imposter syndrome were paid less, had a lower chance of being promoted and felt less satisfied at work. Another study found imposter feelings can undermine seeking out new job opportunities and promotions.
So what can you do about it, if you’re one of the many that suffer from these thoughts and feelings?
5 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Yes, you can overcome imposter syndrome. Here’s 5 tips recommended by the American Psychological Association to overcome imposter syndrome:
Mindfulness - Begin by becoming aware of the thoughts that may be leading to feeling like a fraud or imposter, or simply not owning your successes. Notice what you have achieved - not just what you haven’t. Thoughts like ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m being a fraud’ are just thoughts. No necessarily facts. Let them come and go through your mind like clouds floating through the sky. The clouds don’t affect the sky. See if you can let the thoughts come and go in the same way, without taking them to be absolute truth. Be curious and question these unhelpful or negative thoughts.
Celebrate success. With imposter syndrome, you may be thinking all your successes are due to luck. But are they? For example, one of my projects is going to be recorded on national television today. I’ve just spotted that I’ve been thinking of it as pure luck. But of course it’s not just luck! I’ve put in thousands of hours into the project, and all that hard work is paying off. Well done me! And also well done to all those that have also helped support the project.
Most people feel like imposters. Research has found around 70% feel like they don’t deserve their successes. So think about that logically...even the people who promote you or work with you feel a bit like frauds. So you’re not alone. Knowing this can really help. Share your feelings with others you trust, and you’ll find they’ll also be going through their own inner battles.
It’s ok to fake it. The old saying ‘fake it till you make it’ does work. There’s nothing wrong with acting like you deserve something or walking in a confident way. Act like you own and deserve your achievements and with time you’ll feel like you do, too. Own it baby!
Humble is good. A bit of imposter syndrome shows how humble you are. You have a willingness to learn rather than arrogance that you know it all. See your thoughts positively and keep taking steps into positions you do deserve. We all lose out when you shy away from fulfilling your true potential. So be humble, but keep stepping up too!
We all lose out when you shy away from fulfilling your true potential.
Feeling like you don’t deserve the successes that come your way is very common. Normal even. But some of us feel it more than others. Realise you’re not alone and take those self-critical thoughts as what they are - just thoughts. Keep stepping up your game into what you feel you deserve.
Being courageous and sharing your feelings with others makes a huge difference. Share with a trusted friend and work together to go from a place of fear to one of courage. And as I always advise, start small and keep rising up everyday.
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