Written by Sharon Lee
Psst!! Here's a little secret that's shared among a vast number of highly successful people. Ready? Nobody really feels that they know what they're doing. Truly, I kid you not. Sure, there are those who ooze confidence but even there I'd say about 50% of those people actually do feel confident and the other 50% are simply just acting confident. And of course, there are some things that we are more confident in than others. But this is not a new phenomenon. It's called the Imposter Syndrome and it's a feeling shared by many.
Imposter Syndrome "is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be." - Wiki (yes I got my definition from Wiki).
In summary, it's the nagging, black cloud of a feeling that follows you around and creeps up whenever you're faced with a challenge or success. It's the voice that says "You don't really know what you're doing" or "You just got lucky, that's why you're here" or "You tricked everyone into believing that you could do the job, but you really can't". Sound familiar? How about this - every time you achieve something great, you feel proud of yourself for a few minutes (if even that), but once that high runs out you are left anxiously thinking about the next assignment and worrying about whether you'll be able to take on that next one with as much success. This time you got lucky, but next time may be different. Oh no, did you set the bar too high by succeeding on this task? When is that other shoe going to drop?
The interesting thing about the Imposter Syndrome is that as you become more successful, the feeling of being "found out" and a fraud gets more and more intense, creating more anxiety and a lasting feeling of inadequacy. Despite many hard and indisputable facts of one's success and value, the unshakable feeling of self doubt lingers on. It's a cycle. Many skilled and talented people work very hard to maintain other people's perception of them as smart, hardworking and talented, which leads to more praise and recognition for their work, which then leads to even more intense feelings of being "found out".
So what are some ways to combat this feeling? Here are some tips, but they take work and are broad strokes solutions - tailor it to what resonates with you most. Every time you have a successful event, take a beat. And combat it with thoughts of the ways in which you did indeed add value, contribute solutions and used your strengths. When you feel the imposter feeling creeping up try not to engage or dwell on those thoughts. They'll come, but let them just pass through you and leave. Then write down the ways in which you contributed to your own success. Another method is to seek support from those who have an interest in your success and let them know that you are struggling with these feelings of inadequacy and ask them to help you with a reality check. These may seem like general alternatives but the idea is that with enough repetition, you can shift your automatic thoughts from those of fear to those of concrete facts of your success. I've recommended this to others who struggle with the imposter syndrome and it can also be helpful to take a scenario and talk it out - make two columns on a piece of paper and on one side, write your imposter thoughts and counter it on the other side of the column with reality checks. And as I always say, lead with your strengths (don't hide behind them). When you know what you're good at, you know how you can contribute genuine value to every situation.
Let me know in the comments below if you struggle with the imposter syndrome and how you combat them! I'd love to hear more.