Imposter Syndrome is a real thing. How to stop it from stopping you

Are you a relatively successful professional adult who is terrified you’re about to get exposed for the fraud you are? Do you think the phone is going to ring one day, and a strange voice is going to say “I’m calling to tell you that everyone knows you’re a big fake, and you’re fired and disqualified from everything”?

You’re not alone (I, for one, am with you).

A pattern of this sort of thinking is called “Imposter Syndrome,” and according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, about 70% of people experience imposter feelings at some point in their lives. It used to be thought to affect women more than men, but now there is research to suggest that imposter syndrome affects both men and women equally — and then other research to suggest men are actually more affected. The takeaway? It affects a lot of people. In fact, I think this might mean those feelings are common enough to be called “normal.” But I’m not a psychologist. And I do know that, while humility is a great thing, overwhelming feelings of inadequacy aren’t going to help anyone in the long run.

And if you’re heading in for a job interview or a similar situation, you need to get over the feeling that you don’t deserve to be there – fast.

Here are some signs I’ve found that you’re battling imposter syndrome. (Pauline Clance, who coined the term “imposter syndrome” or “imposter phenomenon” also has a test you can take on her website.)

  • You’re afraid people are going to find out that you’re not as capable as they think you are
  • You’re afraid of being exposed for a fraud
  • It’s difficult for you to accept praise for your accomplishments or intelligence
  • You attribute your success to luck, being in the right place at the right time, and knowing the right people, rather than hard work, intelligence, and good decision making
  • You often compare yourself to others and conclude that they are smarter than you are
  • You have a tendency to discount your accomplishments
  • You remember your failures better than your accomplishments
  • You often feel like your success in life and work is some kind of mistake
  • When people compliment you, you think they’re just being nice and they don’t really mean it

Sound familiar? Here are a few ideas for getting past imposter feelings from the blog of Valerie Young, an expert on imposter syndrome and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of It. I’ve edited them for length. You can read more here.

Break the silence. Talking about it, and discovering you’re not alone,  helps.

Separate feelings from fact. Feeling like a fraud doesn’t mean you are a fraud.

Accentuate the positive. Don’t dwell on your failures or shortcomings, and forgive your own mistakes.

Develop a new response to failure and mistake making. Instead of letting errors get you down, learn from them.

Develop a new script. When starting a new job or project, instead of thinking “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” try thinking, “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.”

Visualize success. Picture yourself making a successful presentation or getting the job.

Reward yourself. Instead of waiting for others to validate you, validate yourself.

Fake it ‘til you make it. Learn to see the ability to wing it as a talent. Young says, “Don’t wait until you feel confident to start putting yourself out there. Courage comes from taking risks. Change your behaviour first and allow your confidence to build.”

I would add the following to this list:

Stop comparing yourself to other people. Comparison is the thief of joy. There will always be someone smarter, faster, funnier, and more successful than you. There will also be people who are less so. None of it matters in the grand scheme of things n.

Get over yourself. You’re neither as great as you want to be or as bad as you think you are. Instead of fretting over things you can’t control, try focusing on other people and thinking about them instead of about you. When applying for a job, focus on demonstrating the value you will bring to the employer, and hopefully, you will convince both them and yourself.

And, remember that everyone feels like an imposter. Or most people. We’re all faking it. No big deal.

For more information on imposter syndrome, visit Young’s site


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