Imposter Syndrome: How is it that successful people can often feel like fraud? The truth about feeling like a fake and how to overcome it!
How is it that successful people can often feel like a fraud? Despite clear evidence that you are doing well, you still have that nagging feeling that at any moment, someone will tap you on the shoulder and say, “We need to chat. You’re out of your depth, aren’t you? You shouldn’t be here.” If you feel like an imposter, you’re in good company. The symptomatic feelings of inadequacy have also been touched by highly accomplished public figures from John Steinbeck to Meryl Streep. Find out how to combat imposter syndrome below and feel confident, clear and sure of yourself!
What is Imposter Syndrome?
“What am I doing here?”
“I don’t belong.”
“I’m a total fraud; sooner or later, everyone will find out.”
If you’ve ever felt like an imposter, you’re not alone. A 2019 review Trusted Source of 62 studies on imposter syndrome suggested anywhere from 9% to 82%of people report having thoughts along these lines at some point. Early research exploring this phenomenon primarily focused on accomplished, successful women. It later became clear that imposter syndrome can affect anyone in any profession, regardless of gender, from graduate students to top executives and entrepreneurs.
People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. The paradox is that those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees.
Why do people with imposter syndrome feel like frauds even though there is abundant evidence of their success? Instead of acknowledging their capabilities and efforts, they often attribute their accomplishments to external or transient causes, such as luck, good timing, or action they cannot regularly expend. Whether in academic achievement or career success, a person can struggle with pressure and personal expectations.
What causes Imposter Syndrome?
Personality traits primarily drive imposter syndrome: Those who experience it struggle with self-efficacy, perfectionism, and neuroticism. Competitive environments can also lay the groundwork. For example, many people who develop feelings of impostorism face intense pressure about academic achievement from their parents in childhood.
Remember: You are Not Alone!
When suffering from self-doubt, it’s easy to think you’re the only one who’s ever felt that way — but it’s not true. Even the most successful, influential and accomplished women (and men, too) have been unsure of themselves at one point or another. But don’t take my word for it. Here are a few former impostors in their own words:
Tina Fey: “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 onto me! I’m a fraud!’”
Maya Angelou: The prizewinning author once said, after publishing her 11th book, that every time she wrote another one, she’d think: “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.”
Michelle Obama: The former first lady has spoken and written about how, as a young woman, she used to lie awake at night asking herself: Am I too loud? Too much? Dreaming too big? “Eventually, I just got tired of always worrying what everyone else thought of me,” she said. “So I decided not to listen.”
How to deal with Imposter Syndrome
If you feel like a fraud, working harder to do better may not do much to change your self-image. These strategies can help you resolve imposter feelings productively:
Acknowledge your feelings
Identifying imposter feelings and bringing them out into the light of day can accomplish several goals.
Talking to a trusted friend or mentor about your distress can help you
Sharing imposter feelings can help them feel less overwhelming. Opening up to peers about how you feel encourages them to do the same, helping you realize you aren’t the only one who feels like an imposter.
Challenge your doubts
When imposter feelings surface, ask yourself whether any actual facts support these beliefs. Then, look for pieces of evidence to counter them considering applying for a promotion, but you don’t believe you have what it takes. Maybe a small mistake you made on a project a few months ago still haunts you. Or perhaps you think the coworkers who praise your work mostly just feel sorry for you. Fooling all of your coworkers would be pretty difficult, though, and poor work probably wouldn’t go unnoticed long term. If you consistently receive encouragement and recognition, that’s a good sign you’re doing plenty right — and deserve a chance for promotion.
Avoid comparing yourself to others
Everyone has unique abilities. You are where you are because someone recognized your talents and your potential. You may not excel in every task you attempt, but you don’t have to, either. Almost no one can “do it all.” Even when it seems like someone has everything under control, you may not know the full story. Instead of allowing others’ success to highlight your flaws, consider exploring ways to develop the abilities that interest you.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)—which helps people reflect on their feelings and foster more compassionate, constructive ways of relating to themselves—has become a popular approach to overcoming imposter syndrome.
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