What is the impostor syndrome? I’ve only learned about it very recently, but everything about it resonated with me and I realized that I have faced it throughout most of my adult life. In my own words, the impostor syndrome is self-doubt mostly in the professional environment, but it can also be applied to anything in our lives.
Originally it was thought women faced it more often than men but recent studies indicate that anyone can be experiencing it.
My personal example of it would be my career. I have been recognized and promoted quite often but there always been a little voice in my head telling me that one day "they" will find out I am not as competent as I appear or I am not as good as everyone else. Meanwhile people around me continued to recommend me for projects and promotions because they saw something in me that I didn’t see myself. It’s the persistent thought that I have to know an answer to every single question and the need to criticize myself for a simple oversight and completely overlook the achievements.
I was amazed to see how many women in very high ranks of leadership deal with the same thoughts and I had no idea this pattern even had a name.
This is what Wikipedia states about this psychological pattern:
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".
Confidence issues? Maybe. While I am a big believer that everyone is responsible for their own destiny, I can’t help but wonder if it’s the way our society is built that contributed to all these amazing, smart and highly achieving women to doubt themselves.
Turns out, according to the American Psychological Association, some mixed signals that we might have received growing up could be attributing to the inability to internalize and accept our success. An example of such mixed signals would be over praise and criticism.
In my case it was high praise when I got an A in school or won my first prize dance trophy – my parents got extremely excited for me and they were so proud and happy! However, the moment I got a B+ or the second place anywhere, there was always a note of disappointment and criticism. I know with my whole heart that they were coming from the place of love and just wanted me to be better but the hot/cold approach did not help in being confident in my abilities.
So it’s up to me to unwind and detangle now, and here are the steps that I am taking:
1. Focus on the facts and not on your thoughts and feelings.
2. Understand what events trigger the impostor feelings.
3. Allow yourself to make mistakes .
4. Change how you speak to yourself (from negative self-talk to the facts).
5. Allow yourself to feel, then correct and move on.
6. Find a mentor/advocate and talk to them about it.
7. Focus on achievements (big and small).
8. Stop obsessively comparing yourself to others.
9. Write down your accomplishments.
10. Take responsibility but don’t apologize.
I hope these steps can help you navigate the negative pattern a little better whether you are a perfectionist who gets fixated on small mistakes, the one-woman show who never asks for help or delegates, the expert who absolutely has to know an answer to any question or the superhero who never stops working.
Up to this day I have to stop and correct all these negative thoughts that creep up once in a while. Below are a few examples.
I have an accent, so people don’t take me seriously – but I speak more than one language.
The only US degree I have is from a non-highly ranked online school – but I have a graduate degree that I got while working full time and over time.
I started a blog that no one will read/follow because I have no idea what I am talking about – that part might be true LOL The time will tell.
If you are curious about it – there is a very quick Impostor Phenomenon test that you can take.
This four minute TED talk breaks it down so well:
Here is another great TED talk about it!
To be clear, it’s totally normal to doubt ourselves from time to time and there is nothing wrong about wanting to be and to do better. The tricky part is to know when you are crossing that mental line and catch yourself before all the negativity settles in.
Remember, you are strong, smart and successful! Don’t let anyone (including yourself) tell you otherwise.