“What am I doing here?”
“I feel a total fraud. Someone will realise soon”
“I don’t deserve this. I am not that skilled or talented”
Do you recognise this? Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever felt that you are just blagging your way through life? You are not alone. The phenomenon that is known as “Imposter Syndrome” is the belief that you aren’t deserving of any success you may have achieved. That you are not as talented, skilled or knowledgeable as people believe. That the mask will slip at the point and people will realise you are a fraud. It’s estimated that around 70% of us will feel like this at some point in our lives.
These feelings of self doubt and insecurity can often hold us back at work or in education, sport or even hobbies. There is no clear cause for it. Usually a number of factors contribute to someone feeling like this.
Parenting and childhood environment
Pressure to do well at school by parents and teachers, particularly after you have done well in tests and exams.
Criticised for mistakes when you didn’t do so well.
Compared with siblings who may have done better at certain times.
Early academic success can contribute to feelings of being undeserving later. For instance you may have found primary and secondary school easy, but then college or university was more difficult. You might start to think you should be there at all.
Existing mental health issues
You may already have feeling of anxiety and depression so you already experience feelings of self doubt.
An already existing mindset of feeling “less than” due to bullying or other reasons.
Imposter feelings can be linked to certain personality traits such as perfectionist tendencies.
Low self efficacy or a general lack of confidence.
A new dream job and with it a whole raft of new responsibilities and possible new skills to be learned.
High expectations from colleagues and managers.
These feelings may fade as you settle in and become more familiar with the role though.
The role of bias
Gender bias and institutionalised racism may contribute if you are a pioneer and the “ first” in such a role. This might lead you to feel you have to work even harder in order to prove yourself.
If you experience micro aggressions and discrimination this can also reinforce the feeling that you don’t belong. This is of course exactly what they are intended to do.
How to deal with it
Working even harder may not do much to change things. You may then be in danger of burn out.
Here though are some ways to deal with it.
Acknowledge your feelings
Recognising that this is how you are feel. Talking to a trusted friend can help you make sense of these ideas. Sharing can also make things seem less overwhelming.
You may also find that other people also have the same feelings.
Avoid the need to do everything yourself and perfectly. Turn to trusted peers and colleagues to build a network of support.
Challenge your doubts
Challenge this thought by asking yourself if there is any evidence to show you aren’t worthy?
Poor work doesn’t go unnoticed and if you are being praised then that is because you are doing well. Colleagues don’t usually praise because they feel sorry for you! Accept the praise.
Don’t compare yourself with others
There will always be people who are further along in their skills and expertise. You have been employed because of your potential. People often enjoy developing that potential. They don’t expect you to be perfect! Infact they enjoy being part of your journey.
It’s always ok to take some time to learn new skills. Enjoy the success of others. Their success doesn’t highlight what you see as your flaws. Learn form them. People love to be asked how to do something.
Success doesn’t require perfection. That is impossible to achieve. Some self doubt is natural. We all have it. It’s getting the balance right in having self confidence (but not arrogance) and the ability to recognise where you can improve and enjoying that learning journey.