Can You Relate? You Might Be Feeling Imposter Syndrome

by: Danielle Ternyila

What is Imposter Syndrome? Well, according to the dictionary, it’s the persistent inability to believe your success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of your own efforts or skills.

So what’s imposter syndrome? A phenomenon we may struggle with mentally to believe in ourselves, in a sense. We experience extreme feelings of self-doubt and lack of self-worth, or just general confusion in our life or career. It can happen to anyone, and it can be a completely normal feeling. It can be a daunting feeling to go through, but you should never feel alone in this. There are many of us out here who feel the same way, and I hope you can walk away today feeling a little more in control in these doubtful times.

Serena Williams, Jennifer Lopez, Tom Hanks, and Maya Angelou are among some of the biggest names we all know who have had their own experiences with feelings of self doubt and inadequacy. These are people we love to see on screen or who have inspired us, and they too have admitted to feeling like they’re a “swindler” or a “fraud” in their lives. Even Lady Gaga, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Seth Godin, and Michelle Obama have experienced imposter syndrome, too. Now how is that for company?

What do we know about Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome was first studied in the early 1970s, which is when the lead researchers and psychologists Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes coined the term. Specifically, they studied this phenomenon in 150 high-achieving women who appeared to be more successful than their peers and were having a hard time attributing their success to themselves. They were highly successful and intellectual individuals with PhDs, but they felt like phonies, “imposters”.

Research has since shown that it is much more prevalent among women, men, and children alike today; in fact, roughly 70% of the population experiences this during their lifetime, including some of the greatest minds in history, even Albert Einstein! In fact, this phenomenon is observed most in high-achieving people, and if this is affecting you, then it’s almost a compliment to your intelligence, right?

Imposter syndrome, also sometimes called perceived fraudulence, is a completely valid experience that you may be experiencing if this sounds familiar to you. You may suffer from a lack of confidence or are constantly comparing yourself to others. You may doubt your abilities and accomplishments. This is a mental phenomenon that does not actually define your self worth and successes or failures.

What are the signs or symptoms of Imposter Syndrome?

We attribute our success to external/outside factors; as in, there is some other reason we had achieved a goal, be it a glitch in the hiring process, someone being nice to you/taking pity on you, or just dumb luck.

Imposter syndrome convinces us that “the impossible” is more likely than we are to succeed. It lets us think the worst thing, that we aren’t good enough and all that we have done has never been enough.

We doubt ourselves and our accomplishments. Nothing we do is good enough.

We overwork ourselves and risk burnout trying to make everything perfect because we cannot fail; failure is not an option.

We wonder who we are, what role we play, where we fit in…. We question ourselves and how we got to where we are or this far in our careers.

We turn down or avoid asking for help, even when we need it most because we fear it will show we are not competent or good enough.

We will waste every moment trying to find out everything and understand every little detail until we have all the knowledge on a task, but the task may never get done.

We may achieve big accomplishments and only see what we did wrong; we think it should have been done better, we could have done better, and we didn’t do good enough.

Activist and Actress Emma Watson said, “It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are.

We may struggle with accepting praise and recognition for our efforts and accomplishments.

We may ask ourselves, are we good enough? We may question if we were just in the right place at the right time.

Imposter syndrome can sneak up on us in so many ways, but it all comes back to this negative mindset. How does it change your interpretation of this when you factor in that 7 out of the 10 people you see every day are thinking the same thing? You may be trying so hard to keep cool so no one “catches on” to you, but many of the people you see, even the most confident and successful people, are experiencing the same feelings of doubt in some way.

Ways to Fight Imposter Syndrome

I am a big advocate for seeking mental health help, having a support team of friends or family that you can trust to guide you, and seeing the professionals (a therapist). If you are struggling with Imposter Syndrome, it is OK to ask for help, and you should always do so if you are experiencing severe thoughts of anxiety or depression. However, there are ways you can work on this at home on your own too.

Engage in Positive Self Talk Only

Imposter syndrome is made worse by the negative talk and self doubt, so shining a light on it all does make an impact. Fight the bad thoughts and think about everything you did right. If you begin to think negatively, take a moment to tell yourself a few important things you might sometimes forget (I know I forget sometimes too)

  • Nothing can be perfect, something to never forget
  • Learn from your mistakes and make them positive
  • Forgive yourself every time you need to
  • Talk about it with your “support team”
  • Recall your past successes to challenge the negative thoughts

Celebrate Every Victory, No Matter How Big or Small

I start every morning by making my bed to get goal #1 done right away, as cheesy as that sounds. Every single accomplishment, big or small, is a win. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way if we always feel like we didn’t do it fast enough, good enough, or the “right way”, but a big part of combatting imposter syndrome comes down to targeting those negative thoughts and shutting them down. Every time you get something done, appreciate it and applaud yourself, no matter what.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

It is so much easier to assume the grass is greener on the other side, but the grass is only green where you water it. Focus on yourself and what you are doing to feel your best, and don’t let your mind start convincing you that someone else is smarter, stronger, or better than you. A major symptom of imposter syndrome is comparison to others, so nip that bad habit in the bud! It’s easy to assume someone else is more capable and knows how to do do it all, but to that, I share a quote from a former first lady, Michelle Obama:

“I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”

If nothing else, I have just one last piece of advice to share, and it’s the last thing you need to know about imposter syndrome before we part ways today.

Well, unless you join me in my private Facebook empowerment group so we can be friends and connect online!

Take the advice of one of our favorite comedians, Tiny Fey:

“Seriously, I’ve just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.”

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