Are You Feeling Like a Fraud? 10 Ways to Deal with Imposter Syndrome
Which of the following statements are you most likely to use?
“I’m afraid that’s it’s not long before I’m going to be found out.”
“I shouldn’t be here. I feel like I’m a fraud.”
“I completely fluked getting here. Pretty soon everyone’s going to realise that I’ve been faking it the whole time. They’re going to laugh me out of the building.”
One? A couple of them? All three? If you have uttered any of the above statements – either to yourself, or in confidence to someone else – it’s likely that you are suffering from Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people – and by people – I mean predominately high-achieving women find it impossible to believe in, and internalise, their achievements. They fear being ‘found out’; putting their successes down to a combination of external factors such as luck, help from other people, even horoscopes. Guys – and forgive the generalisations here – are more likely to attribute their success to internal factors such as talent, intelligence, sheer hard-work and determination.
Is any of this resonating with you? Well, it appears you’re not alone; psychological research carries out in the early 1980s, when the term was first phrased, estimated that as many as two out of five successful people believe they are frauds. Further studies carried out since have reported that up to 70% of all people feel like impostors at some point in their life.
Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women wrote
“The impostor syndrome describes the countless millions of people who do not experience an inner sense of competence or success,” “Despite often overwhelming evidence of their abilities, impostors dismiss them as merely a matter of luck, timing, outside help, charm – even computer error. Because people who have the impostor syndrome feel that they’ve somehow managed to slip through the system undetected, in their mind it’s just a matter of time before they’re found out.”
“[It was] the same way when I walked on the campus at Yale. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take the Oscar back.
They’d come to my house, knocking on the door,
‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else.
That was going to Meryl Streep.'”
Oscar winning actress, director & producer – Jodie Foster
Impostors in Creative Clothing
Do you work in a creative role within a competitive industry and environment? Well, lucky old you, Impostor Syndrome appears to be particularly rife when competition is high. This is put down to the fact that your work is likely to be viewed in a public domain, and therefore has the potential to be open to criticism. Fear of public humiliation and ridicule is bound to have an impact on our sense of self.
We give ourselves an even harder time by viewing the work of peers without objectivity. We seek perfection in their work; we see beautiful works of flawless creation; we learn to compare our ‘inferior’ work pressed against it – full of holes, lies and inconsistencies. What we don’t see behind their work is the blood, sweat and tears; the holes, the lies, and the inconsistencies.
The both unfortunate, and ironic, thing is that people who are less skilled; the true frauds, those more likely to fake it, do not seem to suffer Impostor Syndrome. They will be the ones pushing themselves forward with little talent. Uh huh, I am sure we can all bring a picture of that person(s) to mind immediately, right?
Women Fake It More Often
Impostor Syndrome, and all its arse-kicking joy, is reported to be the reserve of women, more than men. An unfortunate hangover of days where sexism in the workplace was rife, and accepted. And a hangover it still is; these days where we can be working in male-dominated environments, hitting a certain ‘child-bearing age’, or as mums trying to balance a career and your home life, it can often feel like we are having to work triple-hard to prove ourselves (don’t even get me started on this one!). As with most hangovers and the bashings they provide; it’s not difficult to see a link between pressures to prove our worth and feeling like an outsider in our careers.
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think,
‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ ”
Nobel Laureate – Maya Angelou
The more you achieve; the more likely you are to feel even more of a fraud. It doesn’t matter how much more you climb up the ladder – gaining promotions, winning pitches or awards – the fraud will be waiting for you on every rung. As you move up, the more you are likely to encounter other talented people you will be comparing your own skills and talents to.
You could read every book, gain every qualification going, become an expert in your field; it’s likely you will become aware of what you don’t know. Truth is – you could be at the top of your career, a leading light, queen of the world – and you still wouldn’t believe that you have the right to be there. Your self-esteem won’t last the bell.
“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going,
‘Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud,
and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved.'”
Actress – Emma Watson
Other factors which appear to contribute to feelings of being a fraud are linked to being in an unfamiliar environment; such as a new job or career. Maybe you feel an outsider as you arrived in your position without having gone down a ‘normal’ academic, or career, route.
Links to values and beliefs also have a huge part to play; if you were brought up with a particularly strong sense of humility and modesty, then it’s going to be harder to recognise your place of worth in an egoically-charged environment.
Our old friend fear of failure plays a big part too. If you tend to set your internal bar super-high, you could be in danger of coming down on yourself pretty hard if something does go wrong. You may feel like you’re the only person who makes mistakes. Or, you may have early experiences of ‘getting things wrong’. As a result, you may be harbouring feelings that your earlier self will reappear.
“I’d wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think,
‘I can’t do this; I’m a fraud.’”
Academy Award winning actress – Kate Winslet
Impacts of Impostor Syndrome
As I write this piece, I’m becoming more aware of the dangers of living with living with our fraud selves, and it’s obvious to see the clear impacts this has on self-esteem, which is damaging enough in itself, but there are more direct impacts:
We don’t step up to opportunities put in front of us
We don’t take promotions, scared of our inability to do the role
We apply for roles beneath our abilities
We stay in our comfort zone, which leads to boredom, frustration and unhappiness, We lose confidence in our abilities and lack motivation
We allow the fakers to get away with it; and therefore we have to work with their crap ideas, or allow them to take the credit for ours!
So what can we do about it? I’ve put together 10 ways to help combat the Faker, The Impostor, the Fraud. If you’ve been reading this article so far – and have been nodding along in quite contemplation, or screaming out from the inside of your head –then I would encourage you to read on…
You don’t have to reach a nirvana state of perfection to be worthy of successes and accolades you’re picking up through your career. Truth is, that you’re not going to be taking credit for them anyway. Learning to deal with Impostor Syndrome does, however, require self-acceptance.
Accept that the Impostor exists within you. Accept that you may make mistakes. Accept that no-one is perfect. Accept yourself for your flaws. Shift your focus, and adopt the perspective that your ‘imperfections’ are normal.
2. Own Your Successes
Just as we take responsibility for our failures in life, we should also be taking responsibility for our successes. Whether you believe it, or not, you didn’t get lucky by chance, so take some time to allow yourself to enjoy the accolades you’ve got.
Write down your accomplishments. Write down your part to play in them. Note down the reasons why your work was well-received, and any particular strengths you brought to the table. If you struggle to accept yourself then disassociate yourself by writing in the third person; you may find this helpful.
Keep actively recording, and reviewing, what you’ve done, what you’ve created, and the successes you’ve had. Remember, you are simply recording facts.
3. Learn Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is a Buddhist concept which is thousands of years old, and is something which, like mindfulness and meditation, is now finding its way into our modern consciousness. Behind it sits the principle that we should treat ourselves in the way that we would like to be treated by others. It’s essentially learning to be kind to ourselves.
Action for Happiness defines self-compassion as having three overlapping parts:
Being kind and understanding to ourselves in instances of suffering or perceived inadequacy;
A sense of common humanity, recognising that pain and failure are unavoidable aspects of life for all human beings; and
A balanced awareness of our emotions-the ability to face (rather than avoid) painful thoughts and feelings, but without exaggeration, drama or self-pity.
4. Take Risks
You know that saying “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Well, by taking more risks, you possess the ability to outwit your impostor.
“It takes courage to take on challenges and pursue aspirations that leave you wide open to falling short, losing face and being ‘found out.’ But when you refuse to let your doubts dictate your choices, you open new doors of opportunity and discover just how much you can really do.”
Keep track of the things which go wrong. You can analyse to see what’s in your control, and look out for any patterns. You can also become more aware of what’s out of your hands, and where you may be able to assist in making changes, or by simply accepting that it’s not all you!
5. Cosy up to Your Values and Beliefs
Our internal values and beliefs system is inherently unique to each and everyone of us. They are responsible for our drivers in live; they can be our ‘move towards’, or our ‘move away’ from people, places and situations. When required to show your colours through your work, reflect upon your core values and beliefs in order to feel own your work and acknowledge with fervour that your work exists for a reason.
6. Keep Track of Compliments
Compliments are gifts which are given from one person to another. Focus on accepting compliments which are given rather than batting them away. You can do this simply by keeping a journal of the positive things people say to you on a daily basis. If Impostor Syndrome is something particularly relevant to your workplace; then focus on listening out to the good stuff there. It’s important to note that compliments outside of the workplace will often be based on personal attributes, which can be just as relevant, and important, in a professional capacity.
7. Talk to Other Impostors
Put yourself in a room full of other high achievers who believe that they ‘got lucky’ too. You’ll notice quickly the impossibilities of that many ‘lucky’ people being in one place at the same time.
Share your experiences and feelings with like-minded people; it will help you to realise that you are not alone in feeling the way that you do. It will also help other people who may be feeling like they are faking it.
Teaching in your area of expertise will allow you to gain confidence in your own knowledge and skills; as well as helping other people avoid feeling like the impostor. By teaching or mentoring others you will realise how much you actually know.
9. Ask Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions for fear of getting found out. The likelihood is that you’re not the only one who wants clarification on a point, or points being made. It also takes more courage to seek understanding than to sit and nod in agreement.
10. Carry on Faking it!
Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working, whether you believe it, or not. If you’re feeling particularly bad; put on your best award-winning performance. Keep an eye on your body language too. Adopt your power pose. Acting ‘as if’ will trick your brain into thinking that you are in charge of your positive emotions.
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