Have you ever felt like you didn't deserve to be in the position you're in? Like you have only succeeded due to luck or chance and not necessarily because of your education, talent, experience, or qualifications? Have you ever felt like a fraud at work and worried that you could be unmasked anytime?
Impostor syndrome is often described as a sense of intellectual fraudulence that occurs among high performers and achievers, who are unable to own their success. These feelings override any external evidence of competence in their minds.
Most of us experience some form of self-doubt when facing a new challenge - it's only natural, but impostor syndrome goes beyond that. It's an irrational fear of being found out, unmasked, exposed. It's a fear of openly showing that you don't have what it takes to be there, in your job or in that particular project, even if evidence suggests the opposite.
Due to the nature of the condition, most people with the syndrome are bound to suffer in silence. They feel fear of being exposed, so likely, they won't discuss it with a peer, a manager, or a friend.
So let's use this platform to talk about it openly.
Why do people experience impostor syndrome?
After careful considerations, most experts can't agree on one single reason why people experience this syndrome.
Some experts believe it's a response derived from how our society currently works. As discussed in Byung-Chul Han's "The Burnout Society", our competitive, service-oriented societies push individuals to equate approval, achievement, and success to love and worthiness. Self-worth is therefore mostly derived from achievements and accomplishments.
If an individual feels slightly behind or subjectively inferior to others, their line of thought might lead them down a path of doubting their own value, or even feeling unworthy of the position they hold.
Other experts tie it to underlying traits like anxiety or neuroticism.
However, it's important to highlight that systemic or environmental factors such as lack of inclusion or discrimination can also prompt individuals to experience impostor syndrome.
Being surrounded by people who share a similar ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, career history, educational background, etc naturally makes us feel at ease and confident. In spaces where a diverse set of people comes together, it's important to make everyone feel included. Being put in a situation where one feels 'othered' or excluded will definitely impact an individual's confidence level and in turn, make them doubt the value of their contributions, which is one of many reasons to foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Does everyone experience it in the same way?
Like Ortega y Gasset said once "I am I, plus my circumstance". Every person is wired differently and experiences life in a different way. Therefore, impostor syndrome can take different forms from person to person.
For a perfectionist, it can manifest as the need to deliver perfectly 100% of the time, struggling to move past their mistakes, or having issues delegating.
Other people might feel the need to work harder and longer than those around them to prove their worth. This might push them to consider downtime or hobbies wasteful.
For highly intelligent people, it can manifest in the form of shame, whenever they fail to deliver quickly, without much effort, independently, and on their first try.
Others might feel fraudulent whenever they don't hold all knowledge and feel like there's always something more to learn. They will struggle to recognize themselves as experts, disregarding any objective evidence.
How to deal with impostor syndrome?
The very first step is acknowledging your feelings. It's normal to experience self-doubt in isolation throughout different life or work situations, but if you notice a pattern, experience those feelings regularly or you reach a point where it affects your actions, it's time to address it.
Stay objective & remember what you do well Try to make a realistic and objective assessment of your achievements, skills, and abilities.
You might not be perfect or a genius but you have accomplished and overcome great things in the past, so don't disregard this information.
Realize that all of us are work in progress
Nobody is born knowing everything and excelling at every single task. Allow yourself to feel like a work in progress, where failure is perceived as a learning opportunity. You might make a mistake today, but learn from it and do better tomorrow. You're definitely entitled to it (as long as it's legal!). Do, evaluate, celebrate, and learn.
Share your feelings with a mentor or seek professional assistance.
It's important to understand that you don't have to do everything on your own. A psychologist can provide you with invaluable tools to help you overcome such thinking patterns.
Have you ever experienced impostor syndrome? Have you been able to overcome such feelings? If so, how?
I am not an expert, I just researched this topic from a place of personal interest. If I used incorrect terminology or expressed something incorrectly, please feel free to let me know.
Read more: https://impostorsyndrome.com/book/overview/