Do you ever feel as if you’re not quite on the level of those around you? As if you don’t belong among the company of other high achievers? Or do you feel as though you’ve gotten away, or are getting away, with tricking people into believing that you’re competent? If so, you’ve probably experienced what is referred to as the ‘impostor syndrome‘ and you’re not the only one who has. At least 70 per cent of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their life.
Also referred to as the ‘impostor phenomenon’ or the ‘fraud syndrome’, imposter syndrome is something that happens among high achievers where they have feelings of inadequacy, feel as though they’re an incompetent failure, and/or are unable to internalise their success. A person who’s experiencing imposter syndrome will often attribute their success to external factors, such as timing and luck, rather than giving themselves credit and attributing it to their own abilities. They’ll feel as if they’ve deceived others into believing that they’re competent, even though there is clear evidence that shows that they actually are competent. Someone with imposter syndrome often feels as if they don’t deserve their success.
There are several reasons why someone might experience impostor syndrome:
- Perfectionism has often been found to go hand-in-hand with impostor syndrome
- A fear of failure
- Exceedingly high expectations
- An environment that places a large emphasis on high achievements
- An environment with constant critiquing
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that you can overcome the unpleasantness of imposter syndrome:
- Instead of focusing on making yourself perfect, focus on making progress.
- Treat any mistakes that you make along the way as a necessary part of the learning process, because they actually are valuable learning tools.
- View yourself as a work in progress, because the truth is that no one ever becomes a completed project. There will always be more for you to learn, regardless of how much you already know.
- Acknowledge what you know, and acknowledge what you don’t know. You’re not going to know everything, regardless of how hard you try, and that’s OK. No one should expect you, or anyone else, to know everything. I still advise you to strive for excellence, but not for perfection.
- Take comfort in knowing that even the most famous and successful people in the world experience imposter syndrome at some point. Everyone has moments where they doubt themselves, but the key is to be able to continue to press forward when you’re experiencing self-doubt.
- Take ownership of the fact that you have contributed to your success. Sure, perhaps luck and timing did play a role in it, but you were the one who seized the opportunity when it was presented to you, and you were the one who made the most of that opportunity. Not everyone would’ve been capable of doing that.
Sometimes the feelings of imposter syndrome are inevitable, but the impact that they can have on you don’t need to be. Keep these tips in mind, and remember that even the most successful people in the world experience imposter syndrome at times, and you’ll find that the feelings of impostor syndrome are able to pass through much more freely, allowing you to fully embrace the success you deserve.
Matthew Buckley is an Organisational Psychologist. He received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2010, and received his master’s degree in Organisational Psychology with a concentration in Conflict Management from the University of New Haven in 2015. His main areas of interest include career counselling, conflict management, emotional intelligence, employee retention, leadership and management, morale and motivation, personnel selection and recruitment, and self-promotion.