What is Impostor Syndrome?
Have you ever felt that you were a fraud? Have you worried that even though on paper you have all the requisite education and experience for a job or new role, you only got to where you are based on luck? Have you felt afraid of being found out that you actually don’t know what you are doing? If this resonates with you, you may experience impostor syndrome.
If impostor syndrome is something you deal with, know that you are not alone. Impostor syndrome is very common. A review article published in the Journal of Behavioral Science estimated that 70% of the U.S. population has experienced impostor syndrome (see link below).
Also, you should know that impostor syndrome does not discriminate based on the level of success one achieves. According to an article in NBC news, even Academy-award winning actor Tom Hanks and business leader Sheryl Sandberg have experienced impostor syndrome (see link below).
What can you do to manage impostor syndrome?
The next time you start to experience that familiar feeling of panic that you’re a fraud, notice your feeling and recognize it as being impostor syndrome.
You could say to yourself “that’s just my impostor syndrome acting up again.” Or, you could give your impostor syndrome a name, say Fred, and think, “Oh that’s just Fred again. Hello Fred.”
Acknowledging it can help make impostor syndrome feel less scary.
Talk to someone about it
Given that an estimated 70% of people in the U.S. have experienced impostor syndrome, it’s safe to say that other people will likely understand how you feel and can provide support and advice about how they navigated impostor syndrome themselves.
Give yourself permission to ask for help and to not have all the answers
Remember in school when teachers would say “there are no stupid questions?” Try to channel that spirit for yourself. In particular, if you have recently entered into a new role or situation, it makes perfect sense that you will need help figuring out how things work. Try not to equate not knowing with being inadequate.
Change perspective and challenge negative thoughts
Practice shifting your thinking patterns. After having the thought “I must be a fraud because I don’t know what I’m doing!” you could counter with “well, of course I don’t know how to do this yet, I just got here!”
If you find that some areas are particularly difficult in your role, normalize this and know that everyone has areas of relative and strength and weakness. Try to think of it as a growth edge rather than something you will permanently struggle with.
At the heart of it, impostor syndrome comes from being in a self-critical and judgmental space. Hence, it will be helpful to practice self-compassion and work towards being kinder and more understanding towards yourself. Here are a few ideas for how to do so:
Try to talk to yourself as if you were talking to a friend. Ask yourself, would I talk to my friend this way? If not, then shift your self-talk accordingly.
Practice loving-kindness meditation. This is a form of meditation in which you practice sending feelings of love and compassion towards yourself and others. Many meditation apps and online resources provide recordings of guided loving-kindness meditation.
Practice self-compassion statements. When you find yourself barraging yourself with critical comments, stop and instead think about what you could say to offer kindness to yourself in that moment.
For instance, if you are finding that it is taking longer to learn something than you expected, instead of saying “I’m awful. I must be terrible” you could say “May I be patient with myself.”
A final word
If you are struggling with impostor syndrome and want to talk about how to overcome it, feel free to reach out for a free initial consult.