Are You Suffering From Impostor Syndrome?

by Alexis James on March 9, 2020

in Reflection

Impostor Rose
Impostor Rose

It starts with a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success, then leads to a worry that you don’t belong. I have definitely struggled with Impostor Syndrome (the worry that I will be found out as a fraud, that somehow someone will finally realize that I’m not as smart as I seem or as nice as I seem, or as hardworking as I seem).

High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so impostor syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, and it is disproportionately experienced by women and people of color.

Some common thoughts and feelings associated with impostor syndrome include:

  • “I must not fail” – There can be a huge amount of pressure not to fail in order to avoid being “found out.” This leads to an inability to enjoy success.
  • “I feel like a fake” – We believe we do not deserve success or professional accolades and feel that somehow others have been deceived into thinking otherwise. This goes hand-in-hand with a fear of being “found out,” “discovered,” or “unmasked.” We sometimes think we are more competent than we actually are and have deep feelings that we lack knowledge or expertise. Often we believe we don’t deserve a position or a promotion and are anxious that “somebody made a mistake.”
  • “It’s all down to luck” – The tendency to attribute success to luck or to other external reasons and not our abilities is a clear indicator of impostor syndrome. We may typically say or think: “I just got lucky” or “it was a fluke.” Often this masks the fear that we will not be able to succeed the next time.

So what can you do to mitigate the negative effects of Impostor Syndrome?

  • Recognize impostor feelings when they pop up. Awareness is the first step to change, so ensure you track these thoughts: what they are and when they emerge.
  • Change the narrative. Instead of telling yourself you will be found out or that you don’t deserve success, remind yourself that it’s normal not to know everything and that you will find out more as you progress. Sometimes these voices of self-doubt are the residue of previous exclusion or experiences. Consider if those thoughts are still relevant or from previous encounters.
  • Talk about your feelings. There may be others who feel like impostors too – build connections with colleagues and share your areas of growth.
  • Consider the context. Most people will experience moments or occasions where they don’t feel 100% confident. There may be times when you feel out of your depth and self-doubt can be a normal reaction. Notice if it is a specific context that triggers these thoughts. Perhaps additional professional development in a specific skill will develop additional confidence.
  • Develop a growth mindset. Consider mistakes as a learning opportunity and build in reflection time to address what you can improve for next time.
  • Be kind to yourself. Remember that you are entitled to make small mistakes occasionally and forgive yourself. Don’t forget to reward yourself for getting the big things right.
  • Identify allies. We are always in community with each other: recognize that you can seek assistance and that you don’t have to do everything alone. This will give you a good reality check and help you talk things through.

We all are on our own journey and failure is an opportunity for growth. There’s only one you and the world needs more of you! Even the best of us make mistakes and fail, if you need proof just look to Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, or Maya Angelou.

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