Do you feel like at any moment you will be found out as a fraud?
The Secret of Imposter Syndrome
You may be familiar with the feeling of waiting for those around you to ‘find you out’. Deep down inside, you feel like a complete fraud, an inadequate and an incompetent failure – you don't belong where you are and your successes are simply the result of serendipitous luck.
In an increasingly competitive working environment and an era of social media, ‘influencers’ and commercialism where comparisons are everywhere, it is not surprising that these feelings would be magnified.
The good news is that these beliefs and feelings are not always based in truth and there are some things you can do.
Firstly, it may be helpful to look at the type of 'imposter' you may be. Through her research, Dr. Valerie Young has created five categories that may look all too familiar.
As the perfectionist, you set excessively high goals for yourself (and others) and worry about measuring up. Even small mistakes make you feel like a failure. You could be a ‘control freak’, perhaps preferring to do things yourself to make sure it is done right. Success is rarely achievable or satisfying because you believe it could have been done better. Each time you feel disappointed, remind yourself that you can never be perfect. Know that everyone makes mistakes and accept yours as a natural part of the process.
As the superwoman/man, you tend to push yourself to work harder and harder and long hours, juggling multiple tasks, in an attempt to measure up. As an ‘imposter workaholic’, you are not so much driven by obligation to your work, but rather the need for validation. Once caught in the cycle, it’s hard to release yourself. But you can start by practicing internal validation by reminding yourself that your drive is more about making up for your insecurities. Try to nurture your inner confidence like you would with a child or a good friend.
The natural genius
You, the natural genius, believe you need to be smart and quick. With your inherent ability and intelligence, you are used to things coming easily. So if something does not come naturally, is hard or takes longer than you expect to master, you think something is wrong with you. In your shame, you may decide it is not for you. Just like perfectionists, your bar is set impossibly high. Believing that you too can learn and build skills over a period of time can be challenging at first. It can help to identify and work on specific behaviours that can be changed and improved over time.
As a soloist, you feel you have to do it on your own, You think you should not have to ask for help, even when you need it. So when you do, you are a failure and your fraudulence is exposed. Accomplishments when working with others cannot be attributed to you. Likewise, you may really hate team work as you feel you would be more successful on your own. Being independent is a strong characteristic, but team work is too. Become aware that seeking assistance is not a failure, but can bring strengths and new ideas and help you achieve your goal.
As the expert, your competence is demonstrated by what and how much you know or can do. Inadvertently, believing that you will never know enough, you skill-up, read-up and train-up, fearing that you will be exposed as inexperienced or ignorant. In feeling as though you will never know enough, endlessly seeking more information can become procrastination. Understanding that you can never know 100% of everything, be prepared to acquire skills as and when you need them, and move forward with action. See that there is no shame in asking for advice when you need it.
It is likely that most of us have one or several of the characteristics above. But, no matter which profile fits you, know that if you struggle with confidence, you are not alone.
When it feels like everyone knows you’re a big phony, it can be hard to find real perspective. This is especially true when it involves conflict or public scrutiny. When you’re feeling unworthy, wrong or embarrassed, you may want to run and bury your feelings. This might provide some temporary relief, but it won’t help you in the long run.
Being honest with yourself is the first step. When you admit to feeling like a fraud, and understand that feeling hopeless doesn’t mean you are, it is easier to see the true situation and take control. Simply observing these thoughts instead of engaging in them can be helpful. Try meditating on the question, ‘Am I really a fraud?’ until you get to the bottom of the emotion behind it. Then start to flip the self-talk. Remind yourself that we all start somewhere. Trying and failing before succeeding is normal and human. And there is nothing better or worse about us than anyone else.
Opening to others about your self-doubts can also help, although it can be scary – it may feel like you are exposing the inadequacies that you’ve worked so hard to cover up. Therefore, talk to a person or mentor you trust, someone you can safely go to for a reality check. People who have more experience can reassure you that what you’re feeling is normal.
“Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you to embrace other people’s expectations, standards, or values, but you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path — one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons.”
Natalie Portman, actress, producer, writer and director
Written by Bronwen Mander, January 2021
Photo from Stockvault