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  • Writer's pictureAnda Sărăcuț

Fighting the Impostor Syndrome

“They are so much better than me.”

“My success is a coincidence, I was just lucky.”

“I’ll never be good enough.”

“I’m a failure.”

“Everyone else has their life figured out.”


Do these words sound familiar to you?


These thoughts, which include feeling like you are faking it through life, like you’re not good enough to be where you are, are part of a phenomenon called impostor syndrome. The Harvard Business Review defines it as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success”.


The impostor syndrome

Besides the doubts about your abilities and accomplishments, it also includes other “symptoms” such as feeling like a fraud, terrified that someone might call you on it at any moment. It blocks most of us from being our genuine best selves. Because it’s so widespread, it’s actually a little bit inaccurate to label it as a syndrome - it is not an illness or a disease, and it is not necessarily linked with depression or anxiety.


Being a very common pattern of negative thoughts, it’s needless to say that even some of the most successful people were (or are) struggling with this. Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie are just a few who have been speaking out about these thoughts.


Maya Angelou, civil rights activist and Nobel laureate

“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.”


Albert Einstein

“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”


Agatha Christie, author

“I don’t know whether other authors feel it, but I think quite a lot that I’m pretending to be something that I’m not, because even nowadays, I do not quite feel as though I am an author.”


Natalie Portman, Academy Award winning actress

“Today, I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999. I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress.”


Tom Hanks, actor and filmmaker

"No matter what we've done, there comes a point where you think, 'How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’”


Penelope Cruz, award-winning Spanish actress

“I feel every time I’m making a movie, I feel like [it’s] my first movie. Every time I have the same fear that I’m gonna be fired. And I’m not joking.”


The syndrome can be present not only in the context of your professional life, but can also impact your romantic relationships (“I don’t deserve my partner, how lucky I was to be in a relationship with them”), your social interactions, in case of status differences (“Who am I to talk to this person”), and even your style of parenting (“I’m not doing enough”, “I’m not as good as other parents”).


On the other hand, these feelings of insufficiency may be beneficial in the right doses, since they can help by encouraging us to work harder on our skills. But that stress of failure or of being unmasked can lead to overworking, high-level anxiety, and self-doubt. Eventually, that can be followed by missed opportunities, inability to share brilliant ideas, or to apply to jobs in which you might thrive.


A research conducted by the International Journal of Behavioral Science has shown that nearly 70% of people are experiencing the impostor syndrome at their job, sometime in their lives. Some are experiencing it for a limited time, some their whole life. So, chances are a lot of people are feeling that way, in whatever situation you might be.


 

How to combat impostor syndrome


We may never be able to completely eliminate these feelings, because impostor syndrome is an issue that doesn’t go away with success. But, there are some things to think about that can help you to diminish them. Here are some tips:


1. Focus more on self-growth, rather than comparing yourself to others.

Recognize your own progress by thinking where you’ve come from and where you are going. It doesn’t matter what others are doing, your only competition is yourself.


2. Allow yourself to fail and to be wrong.

Remember that sometimes you learn and grow more from failures, than from successes.


3. Accept that perfection is unrealistic.

Nobody is sitting around on standby, analyzing your life, waiting for you to fail. We might tend to overestimate the amount of time others spend thinking about us and our actions, but we must remember that everyone has their own internal battles and doubts.


4. Allow yourself to be a beginner.

Remember that everyone is a work in progress, and absolutely everyone starts off by being a beginner.


5. Know that you are definitely not alone.

Even if the people around you seem like they have their whole life figured out, that is not true. What they show on the outside or on their perfectly happy Instagram feed isn’t necessarily the reality. Also, impostor syndrome is tightly connected with something called pluralistic ignorance - it is a state in which we silently doubt ourselves, and are certain that everyone around us is feeling terrific, confident, and deserved.


6. Break the silence & have discussions about it.

Hearing that a mentor or a friend struggles with the same negative thoughts as you, might help alleviate those feelings. As you become more aware of how common these experiences are, you will grow confidence and develop some ways to put your mental resources to good use, not spending them on self-doubt.


7. Identify the exact moments when you are having those thoughts, and force yourself to stop and change their direction.

Think about how you would talk to your best friend if they shared with you that they are experiencing this. You would probably do your best to convince them that they are so much better than they think. So talk to yourself that way too. You are your best friend for life.


 

Let’s go back to the thoughts from the beginning, and pick a different script for you to change the game.



“They are so much better than me.” “I deserve to be here just as much as everyone else.”

“This success is a coincidence, I was just lucky.” “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

“I’ll never be good enough.” “I am worthy, I was not chosen by accident.”

“I’m a failure.” “I am enough and I am doing my best.”

“Everyone else has their life figured out.” “I am my only competition. I am better than I was yesterday, and tomorrow I’ll be even better.”


Impostor syndrome will have you questioning your place in the spaces that you prayed about being in. It’s a lie. Feelings are not facts.


You’re capable.

You have talent.

You’re allowed to learn and to make mistakes.

You belong.



 


SOME HELPFUL RESOURCES


BOOKS

  • The Imposter Cure - Dr. Jessamy Hibberd

  • I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) - Brené Brown

  • The Practice - Seth Godin

  • Overcoming Impostor Syndrome - Elizabeth Harrin

  • Own Your Greatness - Lisa & Richard Orbé-Austin


VIDEOS











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