Albert Einstein, Meryl Streep, and Sheryl Sandberg. All successful people, right?
Let me tell you another thing they have in common.
It’s the Impostor Syndrome.
Okay, wait, impostor?
Did they pretend to be other people or something?
No, it’s not about being literally an impostor. They didn’t copy anyone.
It’s like this, when you have the Impostor Syndrome, you feel like a fraud.
You feel fake because you don’t know your actual value.
You feel or think like you’re not really as good as people think you are.
Okay let me explain by giving you an example.
Say, you’re an author and your book got multiple recognitions.
Amazing stuff, right? You’d be thinking, I’m such an awesome writer.
But if you have the Impostor Syndrome, you’d think:
No I just got lucky, I’m not as good as they think I am.
If I fail in my next book, then people will find out that I’m actually a terrible writer.
Get the idea?
It’s a mind trap that many people – including the most successful ones – tend to fall into.
It’s that nagging feeling that you’re not as good as people think you are despite your great skills.
It makes you question if you actually deserve the success you get.
Let’s talk a bit on the background of this psychological concept.
So back in ’78 when psychologists first came up with that term “Impostor Syndrome” they thought it was just a women issue.
We all know how stereotypes and discrimination play out in the workplace so obviously many women always felt like they’re just not good enough.
But no, they were wrong. It was not gender specific.
In fact, I read that over 70% of people – both men and women – have experienced the Impostor Syndrome in one way or another.
I remember this actress, Jodie Foster, saying something like “I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
So you see my point?
Maybe there was also a time when you felt like you don’t really know what you’re doing at work or that you’re not the subject matter expert your boss thinks you are.
Later on, I’ll share with you more examples of this.
Now, what should you do? Can you cure this?
Now, here’s the thing. This Impostor Syndrome, it’s not a mental disorder. It’s just a psychological concept.
In a way, it’s like a trait or mechanism that you develop.
Why and how does this happen?
Well, it could be because of your childhood. The way you were raised.
Maybe you were always the “smart one” or the “achiever” in your family.
Maybe you always had the pressure to get straight A’s when you were in school.
You could be so used to setting unrealistic expectations of yourself.
Another reason could be a personality trait or mental condition.
People will anxiety are constantly on the edge.
They could have this cloud of worry that a single failure will ruin their entire life’s work.
Sometimes, culture or environment causes it. Like being in the minority or a person of color in the workplace.
One of the article of landing interviews guaranteed, lets you know how this man conquer his failure and rose again.
Alright, so how exactly does Impostor Syndrome look like?
What are the signs?
Now, there are five types – five different ways people experience the Impostor Syndrome.
They have a common factor though – a general feeling of self-doubt.
And usually, it’s because a person just doesn’t know his or her actual abilities and successes.
Let’s begin with the first type and perhaps the most common example. The perfectionist.
They set really high goals for themselves, and then what happens when they don’t reach it?
They fall into a pool of self-doubt. They even question if they should even be in that kind of job.
Even if, realistically, they do an amazing work, it’s never enough for them.
For example, if you’re given 10 tasks and you do amazingly well at the 9 tasks, what does the perfectionist with the Impostor Syndrome do?
Instead of feeling great about his achievements, he’ll blame himself for not getting the 1 task right.
And as long as those mistakes happen he’ll keep on feeling bad about himself.
Now the second one. The workaholic.
Workaholics hide their insecurities by working hard. Way too hard.
You see, these people feel like they’re not at par with their colleagues.
Sure they’re good but they just don’t think that way.
Maybe they feel like they’re not as educated or experienced.
So what do they do?
They make up for it by staying behind in the office, working longer and harder even if they don’t need to.
The third type, which is similar to perfectionists, is the genius.
But unlike the perfectionists, they don’t care about effort.
To them, success is all about getting things right at the first try.
Usually geniuses are the high achievers. That kid in school who always got the perfect scores.
Okay so how does the Impostor Syndrome affect them?
Let’s say for example, you were asked to make a video presentation for clients.
So you go and make one but it looked really bad. So you feel bad.
The next day, you were asked to make another one.
But you say no, you try to avoid it.
You think, I’m not good at this and if I can’t get it right again people will think I’m good for nothing.
Next, the fourth type. The individualist.
They always try to avoid one thing: to ask for help.
This is because they think it will hurt their credibility.
Let’s say you’re a senior designer in a firm and you encounter this unfamiliar issue.
Better ask someone, right?
But no, your Impostor Syndrome will tell you, don’t ask for help.
You’re the most experienced person here, if you ask for help, you’ll look weak or inexperienced.
Sounds ridiculous but it’s true for many people.
The last one is the expert.
They are normally seen as experts in their industry but they don’t feel experienced enough.
They think that if they don’t know everything, then they basically know nothing. Which doesn’t even make sense but yes, it happens even to the best people.
They tend to feel like they’re just putting on a show.
John Steinbeck was a famous writer, won a Nobel Prize, but I remember reading that he said: “I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”
Here’s another situation.
Let’s say you’re one of the top financial analysts and everyone in the industry sees you that way.
But then you cringe each time they say you’re “expert” or “one of the best.”
You think, no I’m not really an expert, besides this other guy knows more than I do.
In other words, you think your success isn’t valid because this guy is better or you don’t know this topic or you haven’t won this award and things like that.
Alright so do any of these types apply to you?
Let me tell you this.
If you experience Impostor Syndrome, then chances are you’re not actually a fraud.
There’s a good quote I remember, by a philosopher, Bertrand Russell. He said “… fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”
Okay, so do you just let yourself be that way? Well, no.
Yes, the Impostor Syndrome is common. But it drags you down. And your career too.
It blows risks out of proportion and makes you look at everything in black or white.
How can you achieve the better life and career you deserve if you think you’re not worthy of it?
Let me explain to you how the Impostor Syndrome ruins your career.
For instance, you’ve managed to work your way up to a promotion at work. Sounds good, right?
But then your Impostor Syndrome kicks in and tells you, hey you’re not actually cut out for this, the other guy is way better at this, what if you mess up and your boss realizes that you’ve just been winging it all this time.
Or let’s say you’ve been invited to an event to talk about your expertise.
Maybe you should accept it, right?
But then here’s your Impostor Syndrome again telling you, don’t do it, you might mess up.
And if you mess up because you don’t know everything, then you’ll never be invited to a speaking engagement again. Ever.
So, what are you going to do about it?
Well, your best option is to overcome this Impostor Syndrome, right?
First of all, realize that you’re not entirely to blame.
Human evolution is partly to blame.
Survival of the fittest led us to experience anxiety or a fight or flight response.
That’s just how we evolved.
And having that anxiety can sometimes lead to this Impostor Syndrome.
But this doesn’t mean you simply have to live with it.
One thing you can do to control your Impostor Syndrome is to make some changes in your perspective.
Remember the Jenga tower in the other article? You can use that approach to slowly change the way you see things.
Be aware of two truths in life.
First, it’s just impossible to know everything.
Your boss doesn’t know everything. Even “experts” don’t know everything.
Does it make them a fraud? Does it mean they’re just pretending to be good at their jobs? No.
Success is not achieved by knowing everything.
Second, you will fail. Even if you try hard to be at your 100% 24/7, there will still be times that you will fail. And it’s not going to be the end of the world.
Let’s say you want to get 10 things right. You might do it in the long run but then expectations go up to 11 and then 12.
You’re always a work in progress so it’s impossible not to fail.
So the next time you find yourself dealing with self-doubt at work, ask yourself, is this my Impostor Syndrome kicking in?