Impostor Syndrome. It’s a funny one, isn’t it? We work hard to achieve our goals and have a fulfilling life, but sometimes we feel inadequate and like a down right fraud.
And yet, where does it say we don’t have a right to be in a place in a particular setting or environment, with other people?
Which means to overcome Impostor Syndrome, there’s a need to look within and understand what it’s telling us. It’s totally possible to use Impostor Syndrome positively rather than let it swallow you up.
Impostor syndrome was recognised decades ago. It’s a prevailing sense of not feeling good enough, coupled with a fear of being exposed or found out. This feeling or belief continues despite there being evidence to the contrary. Any achievements are often minimised or undermined, as if they are somehow undeserved. I think experiencing Impostor Syndrome says something about our self-confidence and self-belief. It connects with an underlying fear of failure. It’s not surprising to know that Impostor Syndrome is highly correlated with high achievers, but it can happen to anyone.
Am I An Impostor?
I remember the first time I felt like an impostor. It was on the first day of my doctorate. Despite already securing a degree, a masters, and being offered much sought after posts as an assistant psychologist, it was getting a place on a coveted practitioners doctorate that rocked my boat. I truly thought it was only a matter of time before someone found out they’d made a mistake. I honestly couldn’t work out what I was doing there, despite rounds of interviews and relevant work experience. It’s a weird dichotomy when you think about it. I believed I could do it, hence why I applied in the first place but when I get there, I felt totally out of place. Thankfully it all settled down, no one booted me off, and I passed with flying colours. Hoorah!
Moving on, running has also brought up these feelings. Again, it’s not like I don’t put the work in but there have been times where I’ve wondered if I’m good enough to be on the start line. This is particularly true for longer, more technical races. I remember feeling like this at my last marathon, even though I’m a relatively experienced runner. It doesn’t happen with every race but maybe the thoughts are connected to those pre-race niggles of “Have I done enough?” “Will I be able to run 26 miles?” “Will I achieve the time I’m hoping for?” Also, I remember being so fatigued and burnt out at this point, which probably didn’t help.
Virtual Impostor Syndrome.
I sometimes wonder how much life online, or engaging with social media, perpetuates these feelings. Other people’s lives, careers or “success” (depending on how you measure it) can appear to be so far removed from our own. It’s a place for community and engagement, but it’s also a place for promotion. Other people’s lives or businesses can be something to aspire to, but feeling like we’re never going to be that good highlights our own insecurities and perpetuates that sense of failure. Certainly when it comes to Instagram, there’s a focus on number of likes and followers, even though the algorithm is all about engagement and comments. I guess it depends on how we measure success and failure, but from what I can see, we’re all working hard to reach our goals.
Ways To Use Impostor Syndrome Positively.
It’s pointless comparing ourselves to others and opening ourselves up to feeling like we aren’t up to scratch. Feeling like an impostor can eat away at our self-belief, and will drain our energy and confidence.
Yet, if we pay attention to Impostor Syndrome, it can be a real learning exercise and help us understand what to do next.
Acceptance and Authenticity.
I guess it can be tempting to try and fill the discrepancy or shortfall that comes with Impostor Syndrome. You could adopt the whole “fake it to you make it” mindset but what’s the point? It’s not authentic or real. By pretending to be something you’re not will only exacerbate your anxiety and sense of failure. It may also increase how much you don’t feel like other people. Instead, acceptance will go a long way. Accept your feelings, and admit that something needs to change for you to feel differently. This in itself will move things forward. Avoidance and working against it won’t help in the long run.
Focus On What Matters (That’s You, By The Way).
I think there’s a similarity too between Impostor Syndrome and a high level of comparison. While it’s not unusual to compare, there comes a point when it’s unhelpful. Comparing keeps the attention on what we’re not achieving, rather than planning and working towards our own goals. It can really quash creativity and the ability to do things too, and no one wants that.
Instead, focus on you. Focus on what you stand for, your values, and where you at right now. If you’re feeling like an Impostor around certain people or in certain situations, on or offline, think about what that’s telling you? How can you use that information to inform what you do next? It may lead you in a direction you hadn’t considered before. Ultimately it’s about doing what’s right for you, and what makes you happy or fulfilled. The more you concentrate on yourself rather than what others have achieved, you’ll feel much better.
Find Your People.
It really doesn’t matter what others are doing, does it? What’s important is that we spend time with those who validate us and offer a sense of belonging and community. It could be that you have to think about who you’re spending time with, and whether they’re the right people for you.
Remember, most people are making it up as they go along and working things out. We’re all finding our own way. No one knows what they’re doing all the time, or how to get to where they want to be. My advice would be to try and focus on you, and what you want. Don’t lose sight of what you’ve done already and how far you’ve come either. It’s just as important as what lies ahead.
I’ve mentioned Comparison in this post. If you’d like to hear more, I’d recommend this podcast episode from Letters From A Hopeful Creative, by Sara Tasker and Jen Carrington.