A little while back, a friend told me that she no longer felt like an “imposter” for offering a business service to clients because she had finally received a certificate for the business skill that she had studied.
Ever felt like you weren’t good enough to land a new job so you didn’t even bother to apply to the ad you’d seen online? How often have you felt like you didn’t deserve the promotion you had worked so hard for, so you don’t bother to motivate for it? Ever felt like you weren’t prestigious enough at work because you didn’t have an MBA that so many of your colleagues had achieved? Or, you had to hide where you studied because it wasn’t at the institution that everyone regarded as the best? I can relate to this, and I am sure many of you can too. When I joined corporate, many people introduced themselves to me and immediately asked what I had studied.
“I have no idea what I’m doing!” How many times have you said this to yourself at work or at home? I have definitely had days like this and am sure that many of us have said this now more than ever during lockdown. Even though, in the instances when we felt like this, we were all actually doing really well and much better than we believed.
I enjoy setting goals for myself and working towards them, but I do have moments where I feel like a huge failure. Sometimes these goals are a little unrealistic (as I am not very patient), and when I don’t succeed I start feeling like a failure and tell myself that I am. “I am such a failure because I didn’t workout at gym every day this week, or I didn’t eat as healthily as I should have, or I should have crossed more tasks off my to-do list today.”
“While self-doubt in your abilities, especially at work, from time to time is normal, having such thoughts and feeling like a fraud continuously might mean that you suffer from Imposter Syndrome,” says Despina Senatore, Founder of Purposeful Woman, a consultancy aimed at assisting women find their true potential in life.
“Those suffering from imposter syndrome will often feel like they don’t deserve their achievements or success, that it’s only because of luck and not because they are competent or skilled; and at worst feel like complete frauds who are in danger of being exposed at any minute. It causes stress, anxiety, exhaustion and can lead to depression; and, some sufferers will frequently avoid attempting new challenges because of the severe fear of failure”, says Senatore.
If you suffer from Imposter Syndrome (like me), you will often talk to yourself negatively, dwell on mistakes you made in the past and how you could have done things differently, have a big fear of failure and being seen as weak, feel inadequate and often wallow in self-doubt, be terrified of being “found out” for not being as good as you think you should be, be a perfectionist and often procrastinate if you don’t think you will do something perfectly, and over-prepare for all your tasks, especially the most simple ones.
Something interesting I learnt recently is that 70% of people will experience these feelings once in their lifetime – even though most of us feel all alone, and Imposter Syndrome affects women more than men. The reason that it affects women more, is that when we are children and growing up, we are not encouraged to be leaders, take risks, speak up and celebrate our victories and achievements. Most notably, we as women were not raised to believe that we are equal to men and are instead inferior. The first seeds are normally planted during children’s formative years when they receive messages (familial, cultural or societal) about what is expected of them.
Nowadays, you can even be triggered if you are the first generation graduate or professional in your family. You may even feel like you have to constantly be “perfect” so that you don’t disappoint your family, and you need to consistently prove that you belong in your professional or personal life. Toxic work environments also erode a person’s confidence in themselves and their abilities, and leave them feeling inadequate, unable to speak up, or not good enough to achieve anything noteworthy in their role.
Women are increasingly securing roles in leadership, however, for those of you that are, how often do you doubt yourself and wonder if you were placed in that role because of your achievements, or rather as part of quota, or even just as a result of luck?
Being pushed out of your comfort zone will lead to situations where you feel like an imposter and doubt yourself. It will come and go throughout your life depending on these situations and your understanding of your personal triggers. If you feel like you are an “imposter” and start doubting yourself and your abilities, here are some steps to manage how you are feeling:
- Acknowledge and accept it. At the same time remember that you are not alone.
- Focus on facts, not feelings. Silence your inner critic and choose to focus on the facts of the situation, instead of how you are feeling about yourself in it.
- List your achievements. Keep a list of your accomplishments and positive feedback at hand to read when you are feeling low.
- Accept compliments. Instead of deflecting praise, learn to accept it with a simple ‘thank you’.
- Alter your mindset. Adapt a growth mindset, instead of a fixed one. Replace ‘I can’t do that’ with ‘I can’t do that yet’. Challenge yourself to learn a new skill instead of shying away from it because of fear of failure.
- Ask for help. Share your feelings with trusted colleagues or friends. Sometimes this can put the situation in perspective.
Rather than feeling helpless and alone, face these feelings head on, accept that you have Imposter Syndrome, and don’t let it control you. If you don’t manage these feelings, they can get in the way of you achieving great things, celebrating your successes in life, and enjoying new challenges and the satisfaction they’ll bring you. Make a conscious effort going forward to celebrate your wins, be kinder to yourself, and speak positively rather than negatively.
 Impostor Syndrome was first identified in 1978 by Dr Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. (Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241–247.)