Is Imposter Syndrome Real? (And What Can You Do About It?)
Imagine it’s a Tuesday afternoon, and you’re having a conversation with a colleague or trusted peer. You have a massive presentation to give tomorrow, and the anxiety is spiraling loudly in your head.
Your colleague tells you, “You are an excellent public speaker, and you know this topic inside and out.”
You smile and thank them, but the hole in your chest feels bigger than ever. You can’t help but think: Is that what everyone here thinks? They’re going to see right through me. I barely know any of this stuff — I don’t even know how I got this position.
Does that resonate with you on any level? If so, you are one of many people struggling with “imposter syndrome” — a feeling of self-doubt leading you to believe that all your accomplishments were lucky breaks. Those with imposter syndrome often cite feelings of insecurity and fraud; they may fear “the other shoe dropping.”
Is imposter syndrome real?
The term “imposter syndrome” has gained a lot of attention over the years — it’s likely you read it in a magazine, seen it in a search result, or heard it used by a friend or colleague. And as anyone who’s experienced it can tell you, it’s very real.
And it can affect anyone, whether they’re a top salesperson, bestselling author, acclaimed musician, or a solid-A student. In fact, an article in The New York Times names former first lady Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, and Tina Fey as some of many talented, hard-working, respected individuals who have called out their struggle with the syndrome firsthand.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes developed the concept, originally termed ‘imposter phenomenon,’ in their 1978 founding study, which focused on high-achieving women.” In fact, it was once believed that imposter syndrome applied only to women (given how hard it is for a woman to rise up in business as opposed to a white man); although more equitable research and understanding of the topic (and, well — a little common sense!) shows us that men experience it as well.
It’s a problem that stems from society, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and more. In other words, when you fight imposter syndrome, you’re fighting some pretty big systems of power.
But here’s the good news: You can push back against, and reduce, the power imposter syndrome holds over your life.
Overcoming those feelings that you’re not good enough
When it comes to fighting imposter syndrome, it’s important to truly become your own genuine ally. There are a number of ways to do this depending on how you develop habits and learn best.
The following practices can be incorporated into your daily life and will build your fortitude against feeling fraudulent. Ideally, you can employ several of these tactics and keep at them. Over time, you’ll find imposter syndrome is reduced.
- Adjust your inner monologue. The New York Times says: “[T]he simple act of taking a positive affirmation (such as “I’m awesome”) and adding your name to it (“Jessica is awesome”) can have a powerful effect on how you perceive yourself.” By choosing positive affirmations instead of negative ones, and naming yourself, you will subtly begin to rewire your brain to cheer you on.
- Stick to the facts. In times of high emotion, it can be all too easy to conflate how you feel with the reality of a given situation. Keep a journal and when you are facing imposter syndrome, list out the concrete facts you know about a situation. “I am bad at this” is an emotion-driven thought, whereas “My manager has asked me to do this and it makes me nervous” is factual.
- Keep receipts. Now is the time to start collecting all the nice things people say to you. Every time you receive an email of praise, save it in a folder. Whenever you accomplish something — be it a presentation or reorganizing your publishing calendar — make a note of it and how it felt to succeed. Then, in moments of acute imposter syndrome, open your folder and review your successes. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they add up and how much you truly accomplish.
- Fail better. Failure and rejection are terrifying prospects — but the fact is, they shouldn’t be. The more times you attempt something, whether or not you’re successful, the better your shot at succeeding. And when you fall short of your goals, take a break, then think through what you actually learned. You’ll always leave a situation with a lesson you can apply in the future.
Imposter syndrome is all too real, but so are your accomplishments. Be mindful, honest, and kind to yourself. You’ll be surprised how much confidence you’ll gain.