The impostor syndrome. Believe it or not, that’s a real, honest to goodness, term, and it’s one that most of us have the misfortune of experiencing at one time or another.
You And The Impostor Syndrome
You may not have heard the term imposter syndrome, but no doubt you’re familiar with your inner critic. You’ve at times felt like a fraud, much like the great Oz, just waiting for the drawing back of the curtain, unveiling your dirty little secret — that you’re not as smart, knowledgeable, skilled, or informed as they think you are.
Oh my gosh, if people only knew!!!
As it turns out, impostor syndrome is quite a common phenomenon, and nearly everyone, at some point and to varying degrees of intensity, is hit with the fear that others will discover they’re a big, fat fraud.
Why do you suppose that is?
The biggest reason we suffer from imposter syndrome is that we don’t believe in ourselves.
For whatever reason, we find it hard to believe that we’re even remotely as good as others may be at any given task or skill, let alone better. We’re fraught with self-doubt. We are our own worst enemy.
Fortunately, a few simple mind shifts can help you overcome impostor syndrome once and for all.
And here’s something that’ll make you feel better — real imposters often don’t suffer from impostor syndrome at all. It’s perfectionists and those striving hard to excel who constantly second guess themselves and their abilities.
Interesting, isn’t it?
While it may be all well and good to know you’re in great company with others suffering from impostor syndrome, you just want to get over it. You’ve got things to do, for crying out loud. You can’t keep sitting around feeling like a fraud.
To that end, here are some thoughts that may help.
1. Understand you’re not alone.
As I’ve already said, you’re not alone in feeling like an imposter. Consider these quotes from a few well-known and arguably incredibly talented people.
Emma Watson, from Harry Potter fame, speaking during an interview with Vogue Magazine has said she had “really wrestled” with her success and often feels like an impostor. She’s said she felt “uncomfortable” about her acting.
Maya Angelou, novelist, and inspirational role model has said: “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.”
Kate Winslet, Academy Award-winning actress, has said: “I would wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud.”
(Source: August 2015 article in The Telegraph, written by Radhika Sanghani)
So you see, even highly successful people are victims of impostor syndrome. Just knowing you’re not alone, that fear of being “found out” is common among high achievers, should help put things in perspective.
When you start doubting yourself and your abilities, just remember how many respected, successful people have felt the same way. It just means you care about what you do and want to do it well.
2. Take a good look at your accomplishments.
Whenever you find yourself suffering from self-doubt and feeling like a fraud, take a good hard look at what you’ve achieved and how far you’ve come. Even the most successful people started somewhere, and if you’ve been working hard toward your goals, you’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge and perfected skills along the way.
One thing I’ve always found helpful is to stop and look at others doing what I’m doing. If I’m honest with myself, I soon realize that I’m just as accomplished, just as skilled, and just as good as they are. In fact, usually, I’m better. And I admit, I suffer from massive bouts of impostor syndrome. Drives me crazy. At least I hope it’s impostor syndrome. 🙂
It helps to put things in perspective when you keep in mind that too many people today skate by without adding any real substance to what they do. They take shortcuts. They get by doing the bare minimum.
If you go the extra mile and do whatever it takes to get as close to perfection as possible — without crippling yourself, of course. But that’s a topic for a whole other day — then you have no reason to doubt yourself.
It’s just human nature to feel you somehow don’t measure up to those around you. More often than not, you not only measure up, you exceed their levels. Just keep your eye on the ball and move forward.
3. Failing and being wrong doesn’t make you a fraud.
When you’re working hard to learn new skills, to develop authority in your field, failing is just part of the process. In fact, falling flat on your pretty little face is not only to be expected, but you might also even welcome the experience. No one becomes great at anything without first stumbling and falling multiple times.
Unless you can somehow channel the talents of a long-dead prodigy, you’re going to have to earn those rite-of-passage badges along the way. And failing is just a sign that you’re trying.
And we all know what happens when you keep trying, right?
You succeed! Sooner or later, if you keep trying, keep experimenting, keep pushing ahead, you’ll realize you not only know more than you thought, you’re practically a genius!
Well, maybe. Maybe not. But one thing’s for sure. You will get better and better. You will become a trusted authority. People will look to you for advice and knowledge. I bet they already do. Have confidence in yourself.
4. Take a look at what makes you different.
You have skills and expertise that you’re so proficient at that they fly right under your radar. You just don’t even see them as expertise. You completely take them for granted.
Everyone has levels of expertise and natural abilities in given areas that tend to be so easy for you that you don’t consider them anything special. But trust me, they are.
Consider those out there who don’t know how to use any kitchen appliance beyond a microwave, or who have absolutely no idea how to plant a rose bush. Like me, for example. 🙂 The rose bush planting that is, not knowledge of kitchen appliances.
There are always people looking for others who possess skills they do not.
Trust in your abilities and expertise. Someone out there needs what you have and is looking for the help you can provide. Don’t underestimate yourself. You know much more than you think you do.
5. Take comfort in the fact that even Seth Godin feels like an imposter.
I’m adding this last point about Seth Godin here a bit facetiously, but still, freaking Seth Godin feels like a fraud sometimes!! Are you hearing this? Seeing it?!?
As I was researching information to write this post, I stumbled on a comment about Seth Godin admitting that even after a dozen best sellers, he still feels like a fraud all the time. All the time? Seriously?
All of this just proves that if even someone as highly respected and successful as Seth Godin can suffer the pangs of impostor syndrome, then surely there’s help for all of us.
The point is, the impostor syndrome is not unique to only those who lack self-confidence, who fear taking chances, or who are just starting out. It’s commonly felt by even the most highly successful people. Perhaps the higher the level of success and respect, the stronger the feeling of being a fraud. I don’t know.
All I know is you need to accept impostor syndrome for what it is — merely another obstacle to get around on your road to success, whatever success means to you.
Stop being afraid to speak when you know you’re qualified to do so.
Stop fearing others will see through you and discover you’re not who they think you are.
Start believing in yourself and your abilities. Always be willing to learn more. Admit when you’re unsure. Everyone’s unsure of something some of the time, after all.
Because when it comes right down to it, the only thing that can make you an imposter is if you lie and deceive.
That’s not who you are.
As long as you maintain integrity and humility, you’ll always be the real thing.
I’m curious, how have you dealt with imposter syndrome? What have you done to build self-confidence? Share your thoughts in the comments below.