If you ever feel like a fraud or are convinced that luck alone led you to where you are, you’re not alone. Imposter Syndrome is more than everyday self-doubt; it’s a fear that one day someone will find out that you haven’t actually got what it takes.
It’s everywhere. As a global culture of high achievement and pressure rises, so too does Imposter Syndrome, or the Imposter Phenomenon as it is known to psychologists. It is estimated that 70% of us experience it at some point in our lives. It is easily identified by core beliefs that your success is down to luck, you feel out of your depth, or feel undeserving of your status or achievements.
It’s exactly that though: a feeling. Just because you feel it, it doesn’t make it true.
Yet, imposter feelings can change our reality, often growing detrimental to our mental health, sometimes leading to anxiety and depression. These feelings are more likely to show up when we try something new, or reach new levels. This means new graduates and those recently promoted can be particularly susceptible.
Like any other fear, it feels safer to avoid it, but avoidance allows it to grow. To overcome a fear, we need to face it. There is a lot of advice out there on fighting or ignoring your inner imposter, but I’m going to suggest a different approach. It’s a part of you, so you need to understand it to make it work for you.
The basic truth: the only way to stop feeling like an imposter, is to change your feelings. You can do that by challenging your inner imposter.
Challenging Your Inner Imposter
1 Know How it Shows Up
Your inner imposter will feed you a recurring message: something like “I’m not supposed to be here”, “I’ll never be good enough”, or “I hope they don’t find me out”. It may be accompanied with varied physiological or behavioural signs, like an increased heartbeat, apologising for yourself or turning down opportunities. Once you can identify what yours is trying to tell you, you will be able to recognise when and how it shows up.
2 Critique The Voice
Now you know the message, consider where it has come from and its worth. If it has grown from the opinion of another, was it based on evidence or perhaps their own insecurities? If it is based on a one-time event, how does this relate to future opportunities? Look at the value of carrying this message around and the difference your life could experience if you shifted it.
3 Talk About It
If you only ever internalize your feelings of being a fraud or that you don’t belong, you will never know if they have any validity. Speak to someone experienced in your field, a trusted friend or mentor. Share how you feel, the evidence you have and the impact it is having on you. Note down how you feel after these conversations.
4 Re-think Failure
When was the last time you failed? If the thought of messing up fills you with dread, it’s time to change your relationship with failure. Perfectionism and a fear of failure are closely associated with Imposter Syndrome. High performance achievers (think top athletes) find the learning opportunity in failure, rather than giving into the limitations that the pressure not to fail bring. Give it go and see where it takes you.
5 Recognise Your Success
A path has led you to where you are today. It required you to learn, grow, develop and to influence others. It’s OK to be proud of that journey and to take ownership of the steps you have taken. Try telling your story as if it belonged to someone else. How would you react to that person and how would you perceive their success? Again, write this down. Remember it is yours.
You haven’t fooled anyone to get to where you are. You have been recognised for who you are and the value you bring. If you do anything, own that. Perfection isn’t an end goal, as it’s ultimately subjective, so if it something that is important to you, appreciate that it will be a continual learning journey. It is one that you are on and are already making waves.
If it helps to know this, you are not alone. Imposter Syndrome is not exclusive to any gender, race or group in society. We’re in this together. The irony is that if you feel like you don’t belong, you couldn’t belong more.