Do you ever feel like a fraud?
If you do, then welcome to the "Impostor Syndrome" Club. Unfortunately, it’s not a very exclusive one, because most of us find ourselves there at one time or another, and even the most successful women suffer from impostor syndrome in certain situations.
So what exactly is impostor syndrome? Well, it’s the feeling that you don’t deserve success; or perhaps that you’re just not smart, qualified, or experienced enough to be any kind of authority or expert; that your accomplishments are more due to luck than your own talents and determination; and, that you’re likely to be “found out” at any moment.
As it is, impostor syndrome seems to effect women more often than men, perhaps because of the incredibly high expectations that we set for ourselves, and the fact that we’re still forging our way towards equality in the workplace, and beyond.
The biggest problem with feeling like an impostor is that it can stop you from doing the things that will get you ahead. So, in a team, you might stay quiet, even when you have a lot to offer, in case you look foolish, or because you don’t know everything about a particular topic. Worse yet, you might overlook fantastic opportunities and, when you feel like you really need a new challenge or direction in life, instead of approaching it with gusto, you’ll talk yourself out of it asking, “Who am I to deserve more?”
So, how do you know if you’ve got impostor syndrome? And, what can you do about it if you have? Well, let’s find out…
1. You Don’t Feel Like You Have Enough Knowledge or Experience
The feeling that you don’t have sufficient expertise is a sure sign that you’re suffering from impostor syndrome. Whether it’s leaving you terrified that you’ll be exposed as a fraud, or is stopping you from trying something new, it’s actually caused by comparing yourself to others. You look around you, or around your industry, or perhaps around the World Wide Web, and see that there are people there with more expertise than you. And so you decide that you can’t compete with them. Well, I have a little secret for you. You don’t need to compete with them!
You see, there will always be people ahead of you, but there will always be people who are behind you too. And, if you can bring some value for those who are a step or two behind you, then you owe it to them to do that. Because, if you don’t do it, then you’re denying them the opportunity to learn from you; after all, they probably don’t have access to the leading experts anyway. So, focus on helping the people that you can help, and make the effort to learn from those who are ahead of you, rather than giving yourself a hard time for not having caught up to them yet.
2. You Brush Off Your Achievements as Luck
When you dismiss your achievements as luck, no-big-deal, or a fluke, you reinforce the idea that you’re an impostor. Basically, you’re telling yourself, and others, that anyone would have achieved the same level of success. As if the work and dedication you put in to get there count for nothing. The fact is, any and all success you have is down to you and the effort that you put in. Yes, occasionally, a fantastic opportunity might drop into your lap, but it’s what you do with that opportunity that makes the difference.
So, stop making light of your accomplishments. In fact keep a record of them, and note some thoughts about all of the effort that did go into making them happen. And, when people praise your success, don’t downplay it or be embarrassed. Be grateful that they recognise your absolute entitlement to be exactly where you are. I’m not saying you should be big-headed by the way. Just gracious. And grateful for their recognition.
3. You Fear Making Mistakes
If you fear you won’t be perfect, then congratulations. You’re absolutely correct! But I wonder who is. Do you know of anyone who has never made a mistake? What about the people you admire? When they make mistakes, do you look at them and think, “IMPOSTOR!!!!”
Of course not. You think, “Human”. You might actually like them more when you realise that your opinion of them has been exaggerated, and recognise just how imperfectly human they are. And indeed, that’s how people will feel about you. So, give your all into providing value, in whatever you do, and others will be grateful for your passion and contribution, rather than critical of your fallibility. And, even if some are critical, take it on the chin. Hear them out, consider whether you agree or disagree, and thank them for their feedback. What you do with it thereafter requires a balanced assessment of both the positive and negative feedback, to understand whether you should look to improve or tweak your approach, or whether you need to accept that some people are just not suited to whatever you’re providing. Nevertheless, by doing things despite not being perfect, you’ll grow in experience and confidence, and will expose yourself to valuable feedback that will shape and improve your future endeavours
4. You Work Harder Than Everyone Else
Have you ever found yourself working ridiculous hours? And taking work home at evenings and weekends? It’s a sure sign that you don’t believe you measure up, but it’s a self-defeating tactic, because it actually makes you feel even more fraudulent. As people stop paying attention to the fact that you’re working around the clock, you feel the need to draw their attention to it, quietly asserting, “I am good enough. I do deserve to be here. Honestly”.
But it doesn’t make people respect you more. If anything, they’ll most likely pity you, or see you as a martyr who tries to make them feel guilty for not staying late. Your boss may begin to question why you can’t manage your time effectively, too. She won’t look at your workload and say, “Wow, that’s huge, she needs some help”. She’ll just wonder why you can’t delegate effectively or whether you’re slacking off during the day. Now, while I’m not one for wasting time worrying about what other people think, in this case you should be concerned because the effects on your career can be devastating.
So, stop working around the clock, responding to emails the moment they land, or constantly being available at the end of the phone. The fact is, the people that gain the most respect, are the ones that are diligent during their work hours, but who value their personal time, and don’t give it up easily. You see, they don’t need to, because they don’t feel like an impostor. And neither should you. So look at your time management and delegation skills, and stop being overly available. Prioritise your personal time. Nurture your self-respect. And you’ll quickly see pity turn to admiration.
So, what do you think? Have you found yourself displaying any of these symptoms? Or perhaps some others that I haven’t mentioned here?
Whatever your symptoms, if you’re holding back, take a good look at the way you’re feeling and ask yourself, “Is this just impostor syndrome?”
And, if it is, then feel fake, and do it anyway!