“I don’t belong here.” “I am not worthy of this opportunity.”“My thoughts on this are stupid.”“I am an impostor.” These are some of the common trains of thought that come from someone experiencing Impostor Syndrome.
What is impostor syndrome?
Impostor Syndrome is a specific type of cognitive self-doubt, whether it be doubting your own intellectual abilities, talents, or worthiness of your position. Impostor Syndrome can make you feel like an outcast, or an outlier in a group. With the state of uncertainties in the current world, I’ve been hearing clients discuss Impostor Syndrome more than ever. So many people in my personal and professional world have discussed the fears of losing a job, but these fears being supplemented by statements such as “I’m not seasoned enough” or “losing me wouldn’t be a great loss.” This is also a common theme amongst students, wondering if the input they provide in their Zoom classes is substantial enough, or if their classmates are more easily retaining information than they are because of how much more intelligent their classmates must be. We can also see Impostor Syndrome in our relationships, when we start comparing ourselves to our partner’s previous partners, or wondering what they see in us compared to some of the other people they have been with. Impostor Syndrome has always been there for many of us, whether we have known how to label it or not, but it does not have to stop us from fulfilling our goals and dreams.
Who develops Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is not exclusive to any group of people. Although it is most commonly found in individuals who grew up with high achievement standards, many very successful people have had to overcome their self-doubt and validate their capabilities. Some well-knownexamples of these include CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz; Tom Hanks; Maya Angelou; Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University, Valerie Shears Ashby; David Bowie; Tina Fey; and Serena Williams. All of these individuals can be seen to many as the best at what the do, the most intelligent in their fields, or the most awarded in their sport – yet still they have been outspoken on what it would feel like if everyone were to discover that they were a fraud, or that there were others out there more deserving of the opportunities they have earned. In our everyday lives, feeling like a fraud or finding others to be more deserving can come out in many ways. For many people in the work force, feeling like an impostor can mean that they do not want to accept compliments or praise about their performance, because they are still comparing themselves to others who they perceive are at a higher level. Feeling like an impostor can also create a spiral effect, where those feelings of inferiority or imagining yourself to be a fraud, can cause you to put extra time into perfecting your work or craft, which leads to not participating in enough self-care or recognizing your contributions. I have heard from several individuals who have been passed up for a promotion, that following this they poured their time into work, seeking to be the best in their division, and as a result grew tired, burnt out, resentful, and ignored some of the most important things in life like family, friendships, and hobbies. Even when it comes to hobbies and extracurricular activities, those feelings related to Impostor Syndrome can surface. You may start dictating your goals for improvement by comparing yourself to the work or abilities of others, which becomes de-motivating and causes you to stop your craft. For example, if you start learning to play the piano, and begin to truly enjoy learning and setting goals for yourself to improve, that’s great! However, when you begin to watch videos of other talented pianists, or have friends who are able to play really well, and start to think to yourself things such as ‘I’ll never be as good as my friend,’ ‘I’m not good enough to play in front of other people,’ or ‘I just can’t learn fast enough,’ resulting in you to totally give up on learning, the sting of Impostor Syndrome may start to be getting to you. It is important for you to know that you are not alone in feeling the way you do about yourself, and although the world around you applauds your accomplishments, it is up to you to buy in to the belief about how strong, capable, and intelligent you are as well!
What helps in combating impostor syndrome?
- Redefine what being successful means: Those with impostor syndrome often fall into the theme of chasing the destination and not enjoying the journey. When we are so focused on achieving milestones that we feel will increase our status or better others perceptions of our capabilities, we don’t recognize the hard work we took to get there. Ask yourself: am I living a life that is dictated by being the best, or am I living a life where I am the best for myself, but thriving to continue learning and growing? Many people also often get caught up in the fears of being a rookie at their craft. Why are you rejecting yourself because you aren’t at the same level as a colleague who has been at your company for ten years? Why do we let the comparison to others successes stop us from doing what we truly love? You are learning and are growing every day! You are writing your story on the ladder of success right now, and if you focus too much on the end product, you ignore all the steps you took and triumphs you have had on the way to getting there.
- Focus on why you belong and the myths your mind is making up:The job, school, program, group, or organization you belong to, did not select you because you are the worst at what you do. You are an important part of these and you were chosen to be there for a reason! When Impostor Syndrome comes creeping in, it’s helpful to ask yourself about the validity of the claims it’s making against you. A common negative thought, such as ‘I don’t belong here’ can be negated often simply by asking yourself, ‘what’s my evidence for that?’ followed by ‘what’s my evidence against that?’ For example, if you are selected for a promotion at work, the evidence that supports this is that clearly you have excelled at your job, managers and supervisors admire your work, and you have built a good reputation in your company. In the astounding majority of cases, you would not be chosen for a promotion if your company wanted you to fail, if they thought there were better candidates for the position, or if you were not viewed as valuable and knowledgeable in your life of work.
- Practice mindfulness and self-gratitude:A part of being mindful is not just focusing on your faults or deficits, but giving yourself time to celebrate your successes in the present moment that they are happening. Reflecting on that promotion, high grade on a test or homework, or personal achievement in a hobby or sport can help remind you why you deserve to be where you are. Work on trusting yourself and those around you by remembering why you are at this point in life, and the things you do every day to keep yourself or your organization growing. There are so many ways you can do this; whether it be through daily mind and body scans, meditations, journaling, or repeating a mantra to yourself about how capable you are. The important thing is that you take some time once in a while to appreciate yourself and all the hard work you put into life, without negatively comparing your struggles or successes to those of others.
- Talk to someone about it: I promise you, you are not alone in feeling like an impostor. Talk to your coworkers or social supports to normalize making mistakes, not knowing the answer to something immediately, or if you just need to build comraderies with others to openly discuss your feelings about your role. Talk to trusted professionals, supervisors, your therapist, or family members about how they built their confidence in their roles and what helped them along the way. We are all trying to give our best every day, and you are doing an awesome job at it!