Imposter Syndrome: I’m Faking it, But am I Ever Going to Make It?
Imposter Syndrome is the inescapable sense that you are not as talented, intelligent or creative as everyone seems to think you are. People who struggle with Imposture Syndrome are unable to internalize their successes, meaning they cannot believe that their skill or hard work contributed to their achievements. They consistently attribute their success to external sources like luck, being in the right place at the right time, or other people’s pity. Imposter syndrome also brings with it, feelings of fear or dread that one day everyone will find out they have just been faking it this entire time and are actually a fraud.
Imposter Syndrome is more than just a lack of confidence, it comes from deep-rooted fears of exposure, inadequacy, isolation, and rejection. This experience is far more common than you might think, impacting as much as 70% of individuals at some point in their life.
What it Looks Like
According to Dr. Valerie Young, Imposture Syndrome can be categorized into five different sub-types. Each subtype comes with its own set of beliefs, but there is often overlap and you may identify with more than one subtype.
This subtype has a hard time delegating, believes that their work must be 100% perfect, 100% of the time, and is rarely satisfied by success because they believe that they could have done better.
This subtype pushes themself to work harder and longer in order to be enough. They will sacrifice their physical and mental health in favour of their work. The superhuman relies upon the external validation that comes from working hard for their self-worth.
The Natural Genius
This subtype believes that they should be good at things right away and judges themselves when they are not a ‘natural genius’. The Natural Genius is plagued with feelings of shame when they don’t immediately succeed, and so they often avoid new challenges.
This subtype believes that they should be able to do everything on their own, without help. They don’t ask for help because this would reveal them as a ”fraud”.
This subtype bases their worth on what and how much they know and seek comfort through training and certifications. Because they believe that they will never know enough, they fear being exposed as unskilled or unintelligent.
How To Address Imposture Syndrome
The good news is that it is possible to overcome Imposture Syndrome. This isn’t easy; it will take time and effort and might be a life-long process. The following are only a few ways you can tackle Imposture Syndrome.
Talk to someone
Talking with a supportive friend or mentor will reduce the shame you feel about your experience. They might have even experienced something similar and can help you through the process. They can also help remind you of your strengths.
Own your accomplishments
Get a pack of sticky notes and write out your accomplishments one by one and stick them on a wall or workspace. Start with the most recent and work backwards. This will help you visualize your success and make it hard to believe that all of this could have been a fluke. You might also start saving positive feedback when you get it so that you can read it in moments of doubt.
Try mentoring or teaching. When we are able to support and teach others, we are forced to recognize the reality of our knowledge, skills and abilities. You might also tell or write down the story of how you got to where you are.
Look at your context
It is incredibly important to acknowledge that individuals from marginalized groups are far more likely to experience imposture syndrome. Let’s be clear that this is not because they are less capable but rather a direct result of living in environments that were not built for them to succeed. For many of these folks, there are significant systemic barriers to their success that can not be changed with a shift in mindset. However, working with a counsellor to navigate the impacts of these structures can absolutely be helpful.