Identify the impostor (syndrome) before it 'gets' the better of you!
You've got mail! *Opens inbox* Just landed that dream job? Got a promotion? A pay hike? Or the holiday bonus?
But before the happy feelings sink in you feel like you don't deserve any of it. The perks actually make you feel like a fraud? Fret it not. You've just experienced the crippling effects of the impostor syndrome that happens to the best of us, even if you've not heard of it. Rest assured – you are not alone.
As many as 70% high achievers share this dirty little secret: they feel like impostors – their accomplishments a result of serendipitous luck.
The psychological phenomenon, known as impostor syndrome, reflects a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure, despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful. Though this might make total sense for undercover agents and people selling marijuana, it doesn't make much sense for those trying to make the world a better place for themselves and for others.
You live with the guilt of misleading those around you and convince yourself that these positive changes are based on luck, timing, stars, or other factors that are out of your control. This phenomenon – a hot mess of self-harmfulness – makes you think irrationally about your aptitude and performance. It gets uglier as the irony is that the further you go in your career, the more opportunities there are for the syndrome to rear its ugly head. Also, it can take various forms depending on our personalities, backgrounds, and circumstances.
If you’re reading this, chances are that you too have been a victim of the psychological phenomenon.
The bad news: It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be able to fully rid yourself of it. The good news: There are ways to combat it. Yay! Step one is to identify it and then manage it to rise again without having to blame or doubt your capabilities.
An expert on the subject, Valerie Young, has categorized it into subgroups:
1. The Perfectionist: Perfectionism and impostor syndrome often go hand-in-hand. These guys (the perfectionists) set excessively high goals for themselves. For them, success is rarely satisfying because they believe they could have done better.
2. The Superwoman/man: Since 'impostors' feel they are phonies among real-deal people, they often push themselves to work harder to measure up. Impostor workaholics are actually addicted to the validation that comes from working, not to the work itself.
3. The Natural Genius: These guys are the worst! They're under the impression that if they have to work hard at something, they must be bad at it. They set their internal bar impossibly high, just like perfectionists.
4. The Rugged Individualist: These guys are the ones who feel as though asking for help reveals their phoniness. These individuals feel if they seek help they aren't good and people will spot the fraud in them.
5. The Expert: Do you shudder when someone says you’re an expert? Your biggest fear is that of being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable. Well, you're the one – the expert impostor syndrome sufferer buddy.
While the root cause of self-blame and self-doubt isn’t entirely clear, there are things you can do to tackle this syndrome. Because you (yes, YOU) deserve to overcome it!
- Learn to take your mistakes in stride, viewing them as a natural part of the process. In addition, don't push yourself to act before you’re ready.
- Try to veer away from external validation by re-framing your thoughts. No one should have more power to make you feel good about yourself than you. Also, earn to take constructive criticism seriously, not personally.
- Don't beat yourself up when you don’t reach your impossibly high standards. Cut yourself some slack and identify specific, changeable behaviours that you can improve over time.
- Take risks and learn to be independent. It’s okay, but not to the extent that you refuse assistance to prove your worth.
- While you may not be perfect, you certainly are great at many things. Make a list of your strengths, and take note of everything you’re good at. It’s true that there’s always more to learn.
- As I mentioned earlier, you aren’t the only one who struggles with feelings of inadequacy. Find someone you can talk to - be it a coach, friend, or therapist.