If you ever feel like a fraud in danger of being exposed, or think your achievements are just a matter of luck, or have difficulty accepting a compliment (even if the evidence says you deserve it,) you are probably experiencing imposter syndrome.
The term imposter syndrome was coined in the 1970s by psychologists studying successful women, but as it turns out, men and women suffer from it equally. In fact, an estimated 70% of adults experience the symptoms, at least occasionally.
Ironically, impostor syndrome shows up most often at times of success or achievement, such as receiving an award, passing a big exam or getting a promotion, with sufferers feeling they don't deserve their success. This feeling ultimately holds people back, for example, by preventing them from going after new opportunities for which they believe themselves unqualified, or from speaking up for fear of saying something stupid and being “found out”. At the extreme, it could actually be a a self-fulfilling prophesy, in which holding back leads to ultimate failure.
Though many of us deal with imposter syndrome at various points in our lives, there are actions you can take to prevent it from interfering with the happiness and success you deserve.
Remind yourself that what you are feeling is normal. When you know that 70% of the population often feels the same way, you can be reassured that it’s not just you.
Remember your achievements. Write down your successes, the things that got you where you are. Review performance reviews, report cards, positive feedback you have received over time. Putting your victories in context will show you that they’re not flukes.
Talk it over. Impostor syndrome can be a difficult cycle to break because your first impulse is to cover it up. On the other hand, revealing your insecurities will help you to put them in perspective.
Find a mentor. Changing long-standing habits can be tough work. Working with a mentor or coach will give you the benefit of ongoing feedback from someone you trust. You may also feel more accountable knowing that someone else is monitoring your progress too.
Give yourself credit. Change your self-talk. When you catch yourself becoming critical, congratulate yourself, instead. Reframing your thoughts will help you to view yourself in a more positive light.
Teach others. Recognizing your areas of expertise can be tricky when knowledge and skills build up slowly over time. Instructing others is a great way to reinforce and remind you of what you know, while helping someone else.
Accept uncertainty. It’s okay to not know what you are doing, especially when what you are doing is new, like in a new job. Rather than hide it, acknowledge and embrace your learning curve and be a role model for other learners in your midst to look up to.
Appreciate effort. As the old joke goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!” Accept that struggling is not a sign of weakness, it is part of the process. Success often requires careful planning, hard work and usually a few mistakes along the way.
Fight stereotypes. Feeling like an outsider can contribute to impostor syndrome. For example, maybe you’re much older or younger than your coworkers. Look for ways to turn that diversity into an advantage that makes you a unique and valuable member of the team, instead of feeling awkward about being different.
Accept compliments. Can you receive praise graciously or do you secretly want to run and hide? Practice saying thank you sincerely. You’ll create a more pleasant experience for yourself and your admirers.
With the majority of people suffering from imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, it is important to remember that you are not alone. In fact, there is a good chance that the superstar executive that you so admire feels it too. Use some or all of the tools above to deal with it head-on, and don’t let it get in your way!