Hello, my name is Nadia and I suffer from impostor syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon first identified in 1978. The name reflects a belief that you are inadequate, incompetent, and “fake”. Everything you have achieved in life is due to “external factors” and not to your skills and commitment. You go through life pretending to be someone you are not.
Researchers estimate that 70% of people experience impostor feelings at some point in their lives.
As you may guess, impostor syndrome is a very nasty place to be. What crashes me is the chronic sense of inadequacy and self-doubt that persists despite any evident accomplishment.
Top of the class from kindergarten to undergrad; two postgraduate diplomas; three languages spoken; an international relocation; solopreneur; … And yet, I am not good enough.
I can’t say how it all started. Experts believe the impostor syndrome has its roots in the early phases of an individual’s life. But if I go back to my childhood, I only see a serene little girl.
I never felt dejected. I wasn’t an entitled child either. I have always been down with books, school, and “serious” stuff, but I also enjoyed ice-creams and Japanese anime (Sailor Moon anyone?).
My parents never put pressure on me to succeed, nor did my teachers. And I am not a competitive person. I only compete with myself.
So, what’s wrong with me?
I did some research, and it turned out that I am not the only one to struggle with these feelings. Many high-achieving, high-successful people belong to the “impostors club”.
I have recently found out that Michelle Obama is a fellow member too. I mean, Michelle Obama. Whatever your political ideas are, she is exceptional. That’s beyond question. And she herself thought she was not good enough at times? Ah.
Browsing here and there I also learnt that there are different types of impostor syndrome (one wasn’t enough already?). Your type would depend on your background, personality, and life circumstances.
Below is a quick summary of five patterns put together by Dr Valerie Young after decades of research.
- He sets extremely high expectations for himself.
- Things are never ready or complete unless they are “perfect.”
- He finds it very hard to delegate, and he is often a “control freak.”
- When his goals are met – 99% of the cases, it was “just luck.”
- When his goals are not met – 1% of the cases, “I am the greatest failure the world ever happened to witness.”
- He needs to know every piece of information before committing to anything.
- He always looks for new certifications or trainings to skill up.
- If he is not sure, inexperienced, or unknowledgeable about something, he feels null.
- He rarely asks questions at school or speaks up in meetings at work. He would rather commit hara-kiri than looking stupid before his peers.
- Chances are he won’t apply for a job if he doesn’t meet all the criteria of the posting.
- He is the ultimate self-reliant human being.
- He is better off when he can work on tasks on his own, at his own pace, following his own rules.
- He rarely reaches out for help.
- When he can’t help but reaching out, he thinks he has failed.
- He is a workaholic and works harder than anyone else around him.
- He needs to prove he deserves what he has earned.
- He must succeed in all aspects of his life – work, family, friends, pets, etc.
The Natural Genius
- He was a “gifted child” at school. People still call him the “smart one.”
- He is naturally skilled at something and always aces in that field.
- He doesn’t take a long time to complete a task.
- If he does take a longer time to master something, he feels defeated.
All good, but what if you can tick all the boxes?! Okay, maybe I am overacting here. But I can recognise myself in four out of five patterns. I am a “perfectionist”, a bit of a “soloist”, indeed a “superwoman”, and an “expert” maybe…? Yes, I am also the “expert” type.
You see? I am so afraid to look incompetent that I can’t even describe myself as an incompetent-buster!
And that’s exactly the point: lack of confidence, low self-esteem, fear of peers’ judgement. Not to mention my insane tendency to compare myself to others – that would require a dedicated post.
What should you do then? Sorry to disappoint you, but I haven’t yet figured it out!
Nonetheless, here are some lessons I learnt along the way. Consider them as my two cents as not to get overwhelmed with inadequacy.
1. Look how far you have come and praise yourself for it
Go even further than that. Write down a list of things you have achieved in your life and READ IT OUT LOUD. Then get ready for a confidence boost.
2. Enjoy your achievements
Accept them as they are: successful moments in your life. Don’t listen to what your naughty impostor self says: you do deserve what you get.
3. Feel free to dare more
Try something you wouldn’t normally do. Apply for a job you don’t feel fully qualified for. What do you have to lose? A little less to regret.
4. Don’t take negative feedback personally
Negative feedback is not an attack on your competence or achievements. More often than not, it is a misunderstanding mixed with stress. And when it is an actual criticism – let say to your work – welcome it as a way to grow.
5. Failure is NOT a big deal
Yes, failure is so damn hard to bear. Yes, you will need some time to get over it. But it’s not the end of the world. Learn from your mistakes and move on. You will do better the next time.
6. You can’t be good at everything
Remind yourself what you are good at instead. Everyone has (at least) a talent, and you are no exception. Nurture your passions and sharpen your skills. Competence creates confidence.
7. You can’t know everything, and you can’t make a fuss over it
Same as before. Focus on what you already know and make the most out of it. Then start from there to expand your knowledge. Be curious. Learning is a lifetime commitment. And please, stop feeling as if you killed someone any time you are asked something you can’t answer (yet).
8. Reach out to others
Ask questions to people who know more – or differently – than you. Keep in mind that there is no shame in asking for help when you need it. You will learn faster, work better, and make someone feel helpful.
No kidding. Slow down. Recognise impostor feelings when they emerge and embrace them. If you believe that could help you to keep the whole thing under control, talk about it. Otherwise, just breathe. And remember: even Michelle Obama feels null from time to time.
Over to you! Have you ever experienced impostor feelings? Is there any tips you would like to share? Leave a comment down below!