Imagine you’ve just accomplished something that has been a longtime goal. You are invited to speak on a panel. You get the promotion. You publish a paper. You were elected to the PTO. Whatever it is, you did it!
Now, you’re in a room with your new peers (panel speaking, management position, paper publishing, parent of the year, peers). Suddenly, you are struck with an overwhelming sense of fear. You think, “Holy sh*t, someone is going to find out I’m a fraud, expose me, and kick me out of this party. I don’t belong here!”
This, friends, is imposter syndrome.
Coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, imposter syndrome is a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” In the early days, imposter syndrome was thought of as something that primarily affected women (especially that troublesome, high achieving kind), but recent research suggests that it affects men and women fairly equally (ahh, finally, equity). Research also suggests that imposter syndrome is extremely common. (And some pretty impressive folks deal with it.)
The idea that the majority of us struggle with feelings that we are not worthy, don’t deserve, or just got lucky, in regards to our accomplishments is concerning, but not surprising. Consistent with many of the ails of contemporary life in the first world (#firstworldproblems), it aligns with a worldview of “never enough.” I don’t make enough money. I don’t have enough followers. I’ll never be thin enough. I’ll never be good enough. All of which gets compounded by a dangerous game of comparison on social media.
It’s my belief that the best way to combat imposter syndrome is to stop looking for external validation, and learn to appreciate and acknowledge our own efforts. Don’t get me wrong, this is HARD, and it won’t happen overnight, but as with everything in life, we improve with practice. Here’s an exercise to get you started.
The next time you’re feeling phony, take a beat. Acknowledge the feeling without judging yourself for it. Are you feeling inadequate in comparison to someone or something outside of yourself? Instead of focusing on everything you are not, think about what brought you to this moment. The work you put in. The passion you bring. The relationship building you’ve done. Maybe even the fun you’ve had. Remind yourself that you were brave enough to get yourself to this moment. Give yourself a metaphorical pat on the back, and take the next step forward.
If you need a little extra encouragement, remember that most everyone around you is probably feeling the same insecurities. Make an effort to appreciate someone else’s accomplishments, just in case they’re having a little trouble doing it for themselves.