The imposter syndrome
Are you afraid people will think you’re a fraud? Are you scared that people will think you’re incompetent? Are you worried you will be “found out?” That’s the scary side of success. We work like hell to get where we are and then feel that we don’t deserve to be there. If this rings a bell, don’t despair because you’re not alone. That uneasy feeling that you’ve bluffed your way to success is called “imposter syndrome.” We’re scared to death that we will eventually be revealed to be the frauds we fear we are. Imposter syndrome is quite common, and you’d be surprised to find out how many famous people have battled this. Lady Gaga, Tom Hanks, Albert Einstein and Serena Williams, among others, are just a few who have experienced the imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.
Close to 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, according to clinical psychologist Jaruwan Sakulku. Any system that functions according to a hierarchy and reinforces the concept of superiority and inferiority will cause individuals to experience the imposter syndrome. It’s intimidating to be around individuals that seem to be super-intelligent. It prompts people to ask themselves if they will ever be that smart or possess that expertise. The imposter syndrome, which may have its roots in childhood and our relationship to our parents, affects your self-esteem and performance. After all, we think parents have all the answers when we’re children – right? But they don’t, of course.
What about our bosses? Do they know everything? Certainly not! Do we worry about what others think of us in social situations? Perhaps. But, to be honest, they’re probably worrying about what we think of them. As we gain more and more life experience, we realize that we all make mistakes, which means that very few of us are confident about what we are doing. As we climb the career ladder, we shift from learning to a position where we’re expected to be right. If we climb the ladder quickly, we’re often unprepared for our new situation. That’s when the imposter syndrome can make us believe that being wrong means we don’t deserve to be in our new position. Moreover, the imposter syndrome can even prevent us from feeling good about the work we’re doing well. Worse yet, your habit of needing to be right all the time could keep you from taking the risks you need to take to achieve an outstanding outcome. You then become afraid to push boundaries and choose to do mundane work that doesn’t challenge you.
Although the imposter syndrome affects men and women alike, women who hold positions customarily held by men may feel out of place, even if that isn’t true. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes first coined the term imposter phenomenon in 1978 in the “The Impostor Phenomenon In High Achieving Women: Dynamics And Therapeutic Intervention.” According to Clance and Imes, they were investigating “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness which appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women.” The general thought was that it required more courage for a female to strive for higher positions given society’s norms then (and perhaps today) because she was likely to feel inadequate and would have to push aside these feelings.
The buzz phrase “fail fast” is everywhere today. Traditionally, men have been quicker to grasp that concept. That’s changing today, as more and more women are seeing the benefits of failing fast. Both men and women need to test the waters and step outside their comfort zones. The world is moving too fast today to get by without failing at some point. And remember, when you fail (and you will), don’t let the imposter syndrome rear its ugly head. When you fail, don’t agonize, analyze or apologize for it. Just learn from it and move forward. So, how can we beat the imposter syndrome?
How to beat the imposter syndrome
You can start with the four-step system recommended by the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. Step one is admitting that you have the imposter syndrome. Once you’ve acknowledged it, you can begin to deal with it. Step two involves recognizing that even strong emotions can be wrong. Don’t mistake them for more than they are. Step three is realizing that sometimes you should doubt your abilities because you’re increasing them. And that’s good. Step four is emphasizing the positive. Don’t become a perfectionist. Learn to accept that your best efforts will likely suffice. Believing in the imposter syndrome can damage your self-image in your personal life, which could lead to feeling inadequate or even hopeless. And that can affect relationships and the overall quality of your life. Remember, you are great as you are, and you deserve to be where you are.