Imposter syndrome is when you feel your skill or ability is inadequate, and you think that you don't have what it takes to be an expert. Clinical Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term Imposter Syndrome in the 1970s. This is how Pauline Clance described the Imposter Phenomenon:
Imposter syndrome makes you doubt your skills and achievements. You begin to think you are fraud and think that others would call you out for it at any time.
The good news is that you can stop imposter syndrome from taking over your life. For some, you experience the fear for a short period, such as at the beginning of a new job or project. For others, it has been a life long battle. Whichever box you fall into, there's a solution for you.
How common is Imposter Syndrome
If you think that you are the only sufferer of Imposter Syndrome or that there are only a few sufferers, you are wrong. According to a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70% of people feel this way.
In a recent survey, 85% of UK adults admitted to feeling inadequate or incompetent at work, and almost 70% don't feel they deserve their current success.
Some Famous People Who Have Experienced The Imposter Syndrome
“There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.”
- Sheryl Sandberg (Forbes)
“I have spent my years since Princeton, while at law school and in my various professional jobs, not feeling completely a part of the worlds I inhabit. I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up.”
- Sonia Sotomayor (Newyork Times)
“Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”
- Howard Schultz (New York Times)
And Some Famous Actors Who Have Experienced The Imposter Syndrome
"I go through [acute imposter syndrome] with every role,"
- Lupita Nyongo (Time Out)
"No matter what we've done, there comes a point where you think, 'How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?"
- Tom Hanks (National Public Radio)
"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.”
- Tina Fey (Independent)
Both genders suffer from imposter syndrome. Research on Imposter syndrome among men and women is mixed but appears to be more in women than men. However, some suggest it may be a phenomenon suffered by both genders equally. Some say it may be because men don't because of the fear of stereotype backlash.
How Imposter Syndrome Works
Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander wrote in their article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science that the Imposter Syndrome starts when an Achievement related task is assigned. People suffering from imposter syndrome become anxious and respond by over prepping or by delaying then frantically prepping. Once the task is achieved, they are relieved but it is short-lived. As a result, they don't believe their success was because of their ability.
Diagram from the Sakulku and Alexander Paper
What type of Imposter Syndrome do you exhibit?
Dr. Valerie Young, an internationally-known speaker, author and leading expert on the impostor syndrome, categorized Imposter syndrome in too five sub-groups. In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, she describes these sub-groups in greater detail. Below is a summary of these sub-groups.
1. The Perfectionist
You set an exceptionally high standard for yourself. If you fail to meet up to your standard, you begin to experience self-doubt and worry about measuring up.
- Do you find it difficult to delegate, or do your direct reports imply you are a micromanager?
- Do you feel you must be 100% correct all the time or are you hard on yourself when you miss the (exceptionally) high target you set for yourself?
You can't enjoy your success because it's never good enough or you believe you could have been better. This is unhealthy because you are setting a target for yourself that you can never achieve. The bar will always be higher than what you can give. You are unable to accept that you've done well. Consequently, you don't own and celebrate your accomplishments. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge your accomplishments.
2. The Superman/Woman
You always want to work harder because you feel inadequate compared to your colleagues. You often push yourself harder and harder to measure up, mostly because of your insecurities or lack of self-confidence. As a result of trying to measure up to your peers, you overwork yourself and negatively affect your health. You are a workaholic. Does this apply to you?
- Do you often stay back at work past your team or are you the last to leave the office very late at night?
- Are you anxious when you have downtime or do you rarely take time off work because you feel the need to be a hard worker?
- Do you think you didn't work hard enough to merit your current position or promotion?
Overworking yourself to prove your ability would wear you out mentally, physically, and emotionally. You would be giving other people power over your emotions. Your self worth should come from within. Instead of waiting for external validation, confidently demonstrate your expertise. Show up confidently at work and your peers will see a competent professional.
3.The Natural Genius
You always want to get things done effortlessly and quickly. If you take the time to get tasks completed, you feel ashamed of yourself because you believe you should be faster. This is not just perfectionism but also speed. Does this sound like you?
- Do you always want to get perfect scores or do you resent the thought of having a mentor?
- Do you always feel you are unable and humiliated when you experience a setback?
You wouldn't always know everything, neither would you be the quickest at everything. Instead of beating yourself up trying to do everything quickly and perfectly, identify what needs to be done and create a S.M.A.R.T. goal to achieve them. Don't avoid tasks because you are not good at them, but be open to learning things that you need to advance in your profession.
4. The Soloist
You always prefer to work independently. Also, you think asking for help would reveal your incompetence. You may turn down help to prove yourself. Not sure if this applies to you? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you find it very hard to ask for help even when you know you need it or it would make you accomplish your task efficiently?
- Do you always think you can do everything on your own?
Work to step out of your comfort zone to collaborate with others especially if it increases your chances of getting a better outcome or if it would improve efficiency.
5. The Expert
You feel you have to know everything about certain subjects. Often, you feel inadequate even though you are very skillful. You fear that your peers think you are inexperienced and somewhat incompetent if you don't have all the answers.
- Do you feel the need to keep going for certifications and training because you feel you need to improve your abilities even though you have the skills?
- Are you reluctant asking for a promotion or applying for a job because you feel you must meet every single requirement?
You are afraid of not having all the answers and looking like a fraud. Acknowledge and accept you won't have all the answers. Learning is a life long process for everyone.
How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome
It is critical to address the imposter phenomenon because of the disastrous effect it can have on your career and business. Researchers found out that those suffering from the syndrome tended to be paid less, they got promoted less, and they avoided seeking better career-advancing opportunities. Therefore it's vital you overcome this syndrome.
There are ways you can overcome feeling like a fraud or an Imposter. Research shows you can change the way you see yourself. Here are a few steps to combat the imposter phenomenon.
Imposter syndrome is a form of insecurity and the opposite of insecurity is confidence. Confidence starts with believing in yourself and your abilities. It continues with the actions that you take. Take back control of your life starting with how you think of yourself to what you do. You've got this!
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