Have you ever felt like your accomplishments or accolades aren’t warranted? Or do you worry that people will figure out you’re not as smart, skilled, and competent as they think you are? That you’ll be “found out”? If these feelings are familiar to you, you may have “impostor syndrome” or “impostor phenomenon”.
Impostor syndrome was first defined by psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes in their 1978 study as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” In other words, those who have impostor syndrome possess a pervasive feeling of doubt and inadequacy. They believe they are where they are because of luck (which you’ll recall I don’t believe in) or chance, and not because of their own talent, qualifications, or hard work. If you have impostor syndrome you may fear that others might discover your lack of ability and that you’ll be exposed as a “fraud.”
If you do often feel this way, rest assured that you are not alone. In fact, impostor syndrome is an extremely common psychological phenomenon that approximately 70 percent of people experience at some point in their lives. (If you’re unsure whether you suffer from impostor syndrome, I recommend you do the assessment designed by Dr. Clance to help determine if you possess the common traits and to what extent.)
As I discuss in my book, The Authenticity Principle, so many of us are racked with negative narratives that reflect insecurities and fears, despite the many wins and successes we may have achieved. Everyone at one time or another can get caught up in this negative loop of self-doubt, which we often mask in order to appear stronger in the hope that our vulnerabilities will not be seen and we won’t be discovered as a fake.
While impostor syndrome can affect anyone, researchers believe that it is more prevalent among People of Color, women, and people from other diverse communities because of the link between experiencing discrimination and feeling inadequate. Dr. Valerie Young, an expert on impostor syndrome, explains that even though there is no definitive reason why impostor syndrome exists, there are multiple external factors, such as a person’s environment or institutionalized discrimination, that can contribute to them feeling like a fraud.
In addition to direct experiences with oppression, with the lack of representation of People of Color, women, and other diverse professionals as leaders in society and in mainstream media, it’s no wonder that so many of us experience inhibiting feelings of unworthiness and a sense of not belonging.
So the big question is, how do you deal with impostor syndrome and learn to not disregard your own experiences and credibility? The good news is that there are ways to address it.
Here are 4 practical tips for overcoming impostor syndrome and the negative self-talk and self-limiting beliefs that come with it.
Most of the time, when we feel like a fraud, it’s usually in relation to our idea of perfection. But it’s important to remember that perfection does not actually exist. Experiencing setbacks or failing is a difficult but normal part of life that needs to be embraced for the important lessons we can learn in the process. Simply by observing and acknowledging our limitations and the ensuing negative thoughts we have about our abilities, we can put them into perspective and question where they come from and whether they hinder or help us. Being aware of our self-doubt also allows us to be critical of it and to replace our negative self-talk with positive narratives.
Crafting positive affirmations will help you to reinforce and remind yourself that you have achieved your successes because of the efforts you’ve put in. Whenever I doubt myself, my mantra is, “I am great. I am loved. I am worthy.” I use this affirmation in combination with positive truths: facts that help to reinforce these feelings and perceptions of ability. For example, if I am presenting in front of a big crowd and my negative narrative starts to show up, I beef up my mantra by adding evidence of my worthiness like, “I am qualified to be on this stage. I know this gig better than most! I’ve got this.” This not only helps boost my confidence but also energizes me!
3. Write Down Your Accomplishments
Collect your wins! Keep a list of positive feedback, compliments, and nice things people have said about you and your work in a notebook and pull it out when the feelings of being an impostor start to overwhelm you. This is an easy but extremely helpful way to remind yourself of all the hard work you have put in to accomplish your goals.
If you feel like a pretender sometimes, you are not alone. Many people suffer from impostor syndrome, from our peers to our leaders — and even high-powered and hugely successful famous people like Maya Angelou and Tina Fey, who have both openly admitted to feeling like frauds. Recognizing that impostor syndrome is a widespread experience can help us overcome our negative worries, and sharing is where this magic happens. By opening the dialogue for conversation and sharing our experiences with one another, we can build meaningful, supportive relationships that help to lift us up and reinforce positive feelings about ourselves. One way to do this is to find a safe space by joining affinity groups, online forums, or even interest groups on social media — and of course, you can lean on your clouds when you need a boost of confidence and assurance.
The next time you’re confronted with negative self-talk or self-limiting beliefs that make you question your ability or accomplishments, don’t brush them aside. I invite you to do some work to explore and challenge them. Ask yourself: Is this true? What is a positive, more accurate narrative that I can tell myself?
Overcoming your imposter syndrome will allow you to find happiness, cultivate self-confidence, learn to celebrate and own your achievements, and start thriving.
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