A couple of weeks ago, we had a celebration dinner together with an ex-colleague. She got, in my opinion, a very well deserved promotion since she is incredibly smart, hardworking, and talented. I truly believe in her abilities and her values. I see it, I hear it and I feel it every time I talk to her.
I was surprised to hear that she doesn’t always feel the same.
She expressed the fear of being “found out” one day to be lacking the skills and intelligence she is perceived to have.
At the same time I felt like watching myself in a mirror. I also tend to diminish the significance of my achievements and attribute them to luck, a helping hand or other forces outside my control, rather than my own effort, dedication, and even intelligence.
We are not the only one’s. Many people feel sometimes like “impostors” or “frauds”. They feel that they don’t deserve to be where they are in life or are not worthy of their success, no matter how many trophies, certificates, or accolades they’ve received.
Psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, were the first to describe the “Impostor Syndrome” in the 1970s. Simply, it means you are unable to internalize your accomplishments, despite evidence to the contrary.
Some studies suggest that the Impostor Syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women, while others indicate that men and women are equally affected.
The Imposter Syndrome can strike anybody at any time and it affects some of the world’s most high achieving, famous women:
- Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has said: ‘‘There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.’’
- Dr. Margaret Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization once said: ‘‘There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”
- Or Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou: “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.’ ”
- Or Meryl Streep: “You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?’”
The list goes on and on. It’s estimated that up to 70% of the global population have suffered from Impostor Syndrome at some points in their life.
Why do we feel like this?
It seems to affect individuals the most who are at the beginning of their careers, starting a new project, working in highly competitive environments or embarking on something new in their lives.
Dr. Valerie Young says that, “The thing about ‘impostors’ is they have unsustainably high standards for everything they do. The thinking here is, if I don’t know everything, then I know nothing. If it’s not absolutely perfect, it’s woefully deficient. If I’m not operating at the top of my game 24/7, then I’m incompetent.”
Research has linked the Impostor Syndrome to self-esteem issues, overachievement, and unhealthy levels of perfectionism.
Though feelings of low self-worth and overachievement can be traced to external sources, the pressure to be perfect often comes from within.
In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”, writer and research professor, Brene Brown, says: “Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect.”
So what can we do about it?
Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome requires self-acceptance: you don’t have to attain perfection or mastery to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved.
- The best solution, many experts say, is for higher-ups to talk about their own insecurities much more. (“When people see those they respect struggling, or admitting they didn’t know everything when they started, it makes it easier to have realistic opinions of their own work,” says The Ada Initiative, which supports women in technology.)
- Making a list of accomplishments, positive feedback and success stories will also aid to manage Impostor Syndrome.
- Take risks, and get out of your comfort zone. When you tell yourself that you “fooled them again” or that you “got lucky again,” you’re going to start avoiding taking on challenges and opportunities just in case you won’t be able to pull it off like last time. Take on the tough assignment at work, join a team that you feel is better than you are. You learn the most when you challenge yourself!
Believe in yourself. Own your successes. You didn’t get lucky by chance.