No matter how successful you may be in your career, it's not unusual to feel like an imposter.
"Imposter syndrome" is a real thing, and I've met many (very successful) people who have it.
According to Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome "can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success."
Those who suffer from this condition have such chronic self-doubt that they see themselves as intellectual frauds, failing to enjoy their successes or external proof of their competence and accomplishments. It's not that they have low self-esteem or self-confidence -- they just have this driving perfectionism (especially true for women and academics) that makes them focus on how they don't deserve their success.
While imposter's syndrome may find it roots in childhood family dynamics, the end result is someone who feels like a fake, like he or she absolutely cannot fail. Such people attribute their success to luck -- or contend that their success is really no big deal.
Dr. Valerie Young, a recognized expert on imposter syndrome, says there are ways to deal with the issue:
- Break the silence. Shame keeps a lot of people from “fessing up” about their fraudulent feelings. Knowing there’s a name for these feelings and that you are not alone can be tremendously freeing.
- Separate feelings from fact. There are times you’ll feel stupid. It happens to everyone from time to time. Realize that just because you may feel stupid, doesn’t mean you are.
- Recognize when you should feel fraudulent. If you’re one of the first or the few women or a minority in your field or work place, it’s only natural you’d sometimes feel like you don’t totally fit in. Instead of taking your self-doubt as a sign of your ineptness, recognize that it might be a normal response to being an outsider.
- Accentuate the positive. Perfectionism can indicate a healthy drive to excel. The trick is to not obsess over everything being just so. Do a great job when it matters most, without persevering over routine tasks. Forgive yourself when the inevitable mistake happens.
- Develop a new response to failure and mistake making. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for being human and blowing the big project, do what professional athletes do and glean the learning value from the mistake and move on.
- Right the rules. If you’ve been operating under misguided rules like, “I should always know the answer,” or “Never ask for help” start asserting your rights. Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong, have an off-day, or ask for assistance.
- Develop a new script. Your script is that automatic mental tapes that starts playing in situations that trigger your Impostor feelings. When you start a new job or project instead of thinking for example, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” try thinking, “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.”
- Visualize success. Do what professional athletes do. Spend time beforehand picturing yourself making a successful presentation or calmly posing your question in class. It sure beats picturing impending disaster and will help with performance-related stress.
- Reward yourself. Break the cycle of continually seeking °© and then dismissing °© validation outside of yourself by learning to pat yourself on the back.
- Fake it ‘til you make it. Now and then we all have to fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of considering “winging it” as proof of your ineptness, learn to do what many high achievers do and view it as a skill. The point of the worn out phrase, fake it til you make it, still stands: Don’t wait until you feel confident to start putting yourself out there. Courage comes from taking risks. Change your behavior first and allow your confidence to build.
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