Have you ever felt like a fraud? Do you feel that your success is as a result of luck and nothing to do with your efforts? Are you scared that the world will find out that you aren’t as good enough as they think? Then you are dealing with the imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome? Yes, you read right. Research has shown that up to 70 per cent of people experience imposter syndrome at one point in their career. It is most common with high achievers. Michelle Obama in her recent visit to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington admitted that she still battles with Imposter syndrome. So, you are definitely not alone.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes describes the idea that you have succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent, skills, expertise or qualification. It is a belief that you are not as competent or as good as others perceive you to be. Imposter syndrome reflects a belief that you are incompetent and inadequate despite there being no evidence to support that.
Imposter syndrome expert, Dr Valerie Young, 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” found patterns in people who experience the feelings of imposter syndrome. These include:
- The Perfectionist: This type sets extremely high expectations for themselves. When they fail to meet a goal or a target, they feel like failures and question their competence. This type does not notice their own success because they feel they could have done more or better.
- The Superwoman/man: This type works harder than others to feel that they are not imposters. They may see the need to take up tasks upon tasks, just to measure up. This type is drawn to the validation that comes from work, not work itself.
- The Natural Genius: This type measures competence by ease and speed. If it takes time to learn or accomplish, then, they are incompetent. This type is used to skills coming to them easily. So, whenever they have to put effort, they feel that it’s proof of their incompetence and fraud.
- The Expert: This type measures competence based on what they know and how much they know. Experts believe they don’t know enough. So, they strive to acquire as much knowledge as possible to ensure they don’t get found out as frauds. They feel the need to get every bit of information before embarking on a project. They won’t apply for a job if they miss any of the criteria. Constantly, they look out for training and certification.
- The Soloists: Just as the name implies, this type feels the need to accomplish tasks on their own. They feel asking for help exposes their incompetence. They may go as far as refusing help, just to prove their worth.
Why do People Experience Imposter Syndrome
In the words of Valerie Young, “The more people who look or sound like you, the more confident you feel. And conversely, the fewer people who look or sound like you, it can and does for many people impact their confidence.” This goes to say that environmental factors can contribute to making people experience imposter syndrome. For instance, a woman who works in a male-dominated industry will always see the need to prove herself. She may constantly struggle to see the value in her own work.
Childhood Memories has been fingered as one of the reasons people experience imposter syndrome. It can stem from having siblings who seem to always outshine you in everything. Or from the feelings that your grades were never good enough for your parents.
Some other experts believe that it is a personality trait.
How To Deal With Imposter Syndrome
The goal is not never to feel like an imposter, because that may never happen. You have to learn to come to terms with this reality. You have to learn to acknowledge that you experience imposter syndrome. And monitor how this affects you. Does the feeling that you are a fraud hinder or help you?
Remember, the fact that you experience imposter syndrome doesn’t make you less than the others who don’t. The only difference is how you respond to challenges. You have to constantly remind yourself to be open to constructive criticism; asking for help when you need it and learning by practice.
You may have to talk to trusted friends, family and mentors. Share your feelings of being a fraud, incompetent and inadequate. You may be surprised to find out that you are not alone. This discovery makes the feeling seem less scary. You can also seek help with a therapist.
A lot of people experience this. And it hasn’t stopped them either way. The feeling may never go completely. But, you have to learn to slay with the feeling. Michelle Obama keeps powering through imposter syndrome and I’m sure you can too.
Share your own experiences with imposter syndrome.