“I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m really not very good. It’s all been a big sham.” – Michelle Pfeifer
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.” – Kate Winslett
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “ – Maya Angelou
What is Imposter Syndrome?
If you ever have any of the above thoughts, you suffer from imposter syndrome. In short, no matter how much you accomplish, you feel like a fraud. You see all the signs of your success – the recognition, the assets you accumulated, the large bank balance-yet fee like you just got lucky, that it is not through your hard work, commitment, merit and talent that got you there. You live in constant fear that someone will realize that you don’t really deserve to hold the position you do. I certainly have moments where I felt like I didn’t belong and didn’t deserve the position that I did, with the fear that someone experienced will realize I am an imposter. I want you to know that it is completely normal.
There is a common knowledge that women suffer from this syndrome more than man as women generally are more open to talking about feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence, however this may not be true. Imposter syndrome might be caused by succession of career trauma, for example, and this could happen to both men and women. Imposter syndrome could be detrimental to people as it would biased your decision making to fear and risk aversion. You might end up asking for more junior positions that the ones you are actually qualified for (and hence lower salary), you might be too scared to go to conferences and speak to more experienced people in the field, afraid that someone would eventually identify you as an imposter.
What do we do?
1. Positive Affirmation
If you are a natural born positive person, then this would be easier for you. If not, it takes a bit of practice but you could absolutely control those negative thoughts and consistent doubt in your head! Every time it creeps into your head, say to yourself, “I am truly capable” or “I have succeeded in the past” or “I am intelligent and have worked hard to be here”. Nobody belongs here more than you.
2. Focus on Your Own Past Successes and Own It.
Remind yourself of what you are capable of. This might include visualizing past successes you have had (that celebratory dinner with your boss for landing that big client, or perhaps the half-marathon you ran a few years ago). It is also important to remind yourself that you don’t get there by external factors such as chance or luck. You need to attribute your success to internal factors, ie. you. Your talent, your grit, your brain, your hard work.
Step 3. Realize that nobody knows what they’re doing.
Most people fail. Most startups fail. Even the ones that you hear about raising millions of dollars fail all the time. Nobody knows exactly what’s going on. There are a ton of people who will tell you they know the answers. These people are liars.
The world we live in is the result of a lot of brave people tinkering, failing, and succeeding once in a while. Nobody knows what’s next: some are willing to play ball in the face of uncertainty and some aren’t. You’re not an imposter for trying something that might not work. You’re a hero.