“It feels like my hard work has paid off, but at the same time, I still have the impostor, you know, syndrome. I still feel like I'm going to wake up, and everybody's going to see me for the hack I am.” - VIOLA DAVIS
The quote above is from Viola Davis, American actress and producer who has won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and two Tony Awards. Have you ever caught yourself thinking this way? These types of thoughts are common in those who experience Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome consists of pervasive and consistent thoughts of inadequacy, even when you’ve proven yourself to be entirely capable. Impostor syndrome is nothing new. It was first introduced in 1978 by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in their article, “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” They described that the “impostor phenomenon” is an internal experience particularly experienced by high achievers, where one believes that they aren’t achieving despite objective evidence proving otherwise. It’s like you can’t convince yourself of how great you are, even when you really are! It doesn’t matter how much you accomplish, when experiencing Impostor Syndrome, you find yourself still trying to convince yourself that you are who you say you are. It’s like an Oscar award winning actor, still trying to convince herself that she can act.
There are many people who feel this way and it’s not limited to any particular demographic.
What type are you?
The innate tendency to worry and to focus on personal shortcomings and weaknesses, is one of the primary components of Impostor Syndrome. Below are various ways in which it is manifested, which can make it a struggle to enjoy life in general.
Are you the expert? This type of “impostor” experience involves an individual believing that they’re lacking in the knowledge necessary to be successful. The expert always seems to need to learn just one more thing, and then they’ll have the confidence they need to apply themselves. It often shows up as procrastination.
Are you the soloist? If you’re a soloist, you avoid asking for help. You feel that you must do everything on your own. You may believe that you’ll be exposed as a fraud if you ask for help, so you try to do it alone. You may believe that a true expert never needs help, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While you think that receiving help means you’ve achieved nothing, in reality, experts get help all the time. Are you the genius? If you’re this type of impostor, you believe that anything that requires hard work is something you don’t do well. After all, an expert should be able to handle anything quickly and easily. The expert feels inadequate and a touch of shame if they can’t complete a task easily.
Are you the perfectionist? If you’re the perfectionist, it’s probably true that you set standards that others may view as impossibly high, and you confirm your lack of expertise by failing to attain them. If you actually attain your high standards, you believe that you should have done more. It feels like a no-win situation. Are you the superhero? If you are the superhero, you may believe that you are incompetent when you compare yourself to your colleagues. You attempt to prove your worth by outdoing everyone. You’re the person that works weekends when it isn’t necessary. You come in early and stay late. You skip breaks.
Get Out of Your Way
When Impostor Syndrome is allowed to exist unchecked it can severely limit your overall satisfaction in life. It can also hamper your relationships and career. By learning to manage your Impostor Syndrome, you can begin to see your full value and reach your ultimate potential. Your confidence will soar when you gain the necessary skills to deal with your self-doubt effectively. Here are some strategies that you can try:
Mindfulness. Notice your emotions without judging them. This takes away the emotional charge. When you’re feeling anxious, try to relax and notice how you experience the anxiety in your body. How does it feel? It’s also important to be mindful of our thoughts, because our thoughts control how we feel. Being mindful of our thoughts and especially the thoughts that get in the way of us feeling confident, can be powerful. It’s powerful, because we have the power to change our thoughts, and when we change our thoughts, it changes how we feel.
Change your self-talk. Again, our thoughts control how we feel. It’s also important to note, that our thoughts control our actions. Pay attention to how you speak to yourself. Experiencing Impostor Syndrome means that you are misjudging yourself. You are telling yourself things about yourself, in which there is no evidence. For example, you may be telling yourself that you are not good enough, that you are not worthy of belonging or that others are more capable or deserving than you. Instead of speaking doubt to yourself, speak truth to yourself. The truth is, you are worthy, and you are inherently great!
Let go of trying to be perfect. If you feel the need to be perfect, the world is a challenging and scary place. When you need to be perfect, there’s only one way that things can go correctly and an infinite number of ways that things can go wrong.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Don’t compare your greatness to the greatness of others. You do know, that you’re great too, right?! That's right! You have "greatness" too. When you compare your greatness to the greatness of others, you begin to misbelieve that you are less than. This thinking robs you of opportunities to show up, to see what’s yours, to seize what’s yours, to serve, and to strengthen relationships. Don’t get robbed! Realize the unique greatness that lies within you and know that there is room for their’s too.
Undo the damaging childhood messages. Recognize the limiting messages that you received as a child that you have adopted as beliefs. Those messages could have been words that were said to you and reactions to your behavior. For example, you may have received messages such as:
I have to be perfect
Anything less than perfection is failing
If I can’t do anything right, I shouldn’t do it at all
Better is not good enough
Mistakes and failure are bad
I’m not enough
I'm not capable
I'm not important
You can flat out reject those messages. You can also ask yourself the question, "Did I possibly misinterpret the intention of those childhood messages?" and you can experiment with assigning an alternate meaning to them. For example: "My parents just wanted me to learn from my mistakes, so they focused on those - they didn't know any better." Imagine a new day. Imagine how your life would be if you were not walking through it feeling like an impostor. How would you feel? What would you give yourself permission to do? Who would you give yourself permission to talk to? How would you better care for yourself? Focus on the facts. There is evidence of your success, despite the lies that you are telling yourself, about yourself. You weren’t successful just because you were lucky or knew the right people. Recognize your role in your success. Recognize your contribution to all the great things you’ve done. You might need to enlist the help of friends and family for this. Ask them to list your positive traits.
Learn to like critical feedback. Most criticism can be helpful if you have the proper perspective. Each time someone offers a suggestion, you might be getting a great piece of advice. Treat it like a gift and accept your humanity. We are not meant to be perfect! We are meant to grow.
Redefine failure. Failure is only a temporary condition. It’s a stepping stone to achieving your goal. Sometimes, the experience of something failing, is the catalyst which gives us the clarity we need to clear a path. Some things require a few tries. Sometimes you’ll take the wrong approach and need to make a few changes. Through it all, remember that it is not you that is the failure. Instead, something that we tried, failed. Look at it as an experiment, and try again with your new learning.