'I don't qualify for this job.'
'I am not experienced enough to talk on this topic.'
'People are going to figure out I don't know anything and I am just pretending.'
Who here hasn't felt some self-doubt or unworthiness at some point in our lives? But if those feelings occur despite your knowledge, expertise, hard work, and experience, making you feel unworthy and inadequate, you are most likely suffering from imposter syndrome.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome refers to an individual's fear of being exposed as a "fraud." The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, who conducted a study and found that high-achieving women were constantly feeling like a fraud and imagined everyone making a mistake assuming they are intelligent.
Common symptoms of imposter syndrome
Despite being skilled and successful professionals, people suffering from imposter syndrome can't stop feeling like a fraud. Rather than celebrating their achievements, they worry about not being good enough. As a result, they live in fear of being 'exposed' or 'found out.'
According to research, 70% of people have suffered from imposter syndrome at one point in their lives. Even though it's common, it's damaging to a person's confidence and career growth.
Let's have a look at some of the warning signs of imposter syndrome:
- An unjustifiable thought process that you're not qualified to do your job
- Fear of being "found out" and unmasked as a fraud
- Crediting all your success to luck or things working in your favor
- Fear of being found out as incompetent
- Finding it hard to accept praise
- Holding yourself to incredibly high or impossible standards
As a content marketer, Christine McLean experiences Imposter Syndrome in two ways. She says, "I feel like an imposter when I am not getting results as quickly as I would like. And secondly, I feel like a fraud when I compare myself to other marketers who are way ahead of me". The imposter syndrome makes her doubt her work and feel like she isn't doing the right thing — despite years of proven experience in content marketing.
When does imposter syndrome hit?
It depends on the severity of your imposter syndrome. It could occur when you suddenly have a level of exposure you previously did not have. In my experience, imposter syndrome stems when:
- My abilities are under scrutiny.
So, when someone new is assessing me based on my work, I feel like I will be outed as a fraud any minute now. This happens the most when I am applying for a new job, interviewing for a job, or submitting myself as a potential speaker for an event.
Marie, a Social Media Manager, talked about her experience with imposter syndrome. "I was working on a strategy I had to present, and I felt like everything I was writing down on the proposal was a lie and, therefore, I was a lie as well," she said.
- My workflow is disturbed.
The minute I feel like my productivity is lower compared to previous weeks, I start doubting my abilities to work. I berate myself for not doing as much as I know I could. And sometimes, it reaches a point where I feel like I am not bringing anything to the table and wasting the time of my colleagues and employer.
5 ways to overcome imposter syndrome
To overcome imposter syndrome, first, you have to identify and accept your feelings. As with many challenges, acceptance is the first step towards conquering your imposter syndrome. I have listed down five steps that I follow to overcome imposter syndrome.
1) Remember — It's not just you
When you have imposter syndrome, the biggest encouragement can come from the fact that most highly successful people have suffered from it. So, you have to remember that you are not alone.
Meryl Streep, often described as the best actress of her generation, said about her imposter syndrome, 'You think, "Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don't know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?" '
2) Be kind to yourself
Impostor syndrome often manifests itself as a voice in our head — telling us "you are not smart enough" or "you don't know anything."
You have to be kind to yourself. Change the way you talk to yourself. Practice positive self-talk and speak to yourself with kinder words. Be happy for yourself the same way you would be happy for a friend on their achievements. Don't undermine the milestones you have achieved.
Challenge damaging thoughts by talking about your achievements and hard work. Instead of constantly judging yourself, be more open to learning and improving daily.
If you’re working on your imposter syndrome, never forget Ted Lasso’s Be Curious, Not Judgmental speech. pic.twitter.com/gE1cpp9DYM— Jack Appleby (@JuiceboxCA) December 30, 2021
You can also use short, positive affirmations that help you challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. Use affirmations like, "My work has resulted in huge successes and an increase in revenue for my company, so I know what I am doing."
3) Release your inner perfectionist
Perfectionism is a myth. Humans aren't meant to be perfect. We grow and learn from our mistakes and failures. So give yourself the grace to fail, make mistakes, fall down, and then get up.
The majority of people who suffer from imposter syndrome are high achievers, and they set extremely high standards for themselves.
No one can do everything perfectly, and holding yourself to that impossible standard can be counterproductive and cause imposter syndrome.
4) Keep a folder of all your achievements
More often than not, we need someone to tell us we are doing a good job and are worthy of all the success our way.
How do I do that? At the start of 2021, I made a folder to include all my achievements. Some of the things I have included in the folder to date include:
- Featured on a podcast
- Guest posted on a popular site
- Landed new freelance clients
- Positive comments on my Twitter or LinkedIn
- Reviews from clients
- Blogs that I am most proud of
I come back to this folder quite often, especially when I feel like I am not worthy of success and good opportunities coming my way.
Sachin Shah, the founder of The Hype Capital, maintains a folder of all the screenshots of good reviews and testimonials from clients. He says, "It really helps to have a constant reminder that you know what you are doing and you are good at it. It makes me get going again."
Asangi Jasenthuliyana, Director of Marketing, talks about the importance of having a "pick me up folder." For her, what works is to go back to the campaigns she has led and see the results they generated, spotting the improvement points and making it better next time. According to Asangi, "Identifying my own mistakes and perfecting them gives me proof that I'm good at what I do."
5) Block the noise
The thing with imposter syndrome is — it will make you take criticism to heart, and you will start to feel worse about yourself and your work.
So, block out all the unnecessary criticism from your life. Identify constructive feedback, listen to it, and improve your craft as a marketer, writer, or business owner.
Identify what criticism is helpful to you as a professional and ignore the rest of the noise.
Imposter syndrome is hard. It makes you doubt yourself over and over again. The best you can do is identify and accept your feelings, give yourself grace, follow the five steps mentioned above and keep moving onwards and upwards!