Do you ever feel like a fraud, as if you don’t deserve the success that you’re achieving? Have you ever scored a big promotion, only to write it off in your mind as good luck, or good timing?
If this is sounding familiar, you may be experiencing something called imposter syndrome. What is imposter syndrome? It’s a phenomenon where highly successful individuals privately doubt their own accomplishments, fearing they will fail, and be unmasked as incompetent.
We have a tendency to believe that the harder we work, “if we could just get that promotion if we could only prove ourselves worthy,” then these feelings will go away on their own but, paradoxically, that’s not the way it works. Studies have shown that the more successful or skilled we are, the more likely we are to think that we’re faking it.
Pretty demoralizing, right? Well here is the good news about imposter syndrome: you’re not the only one dealing with it. Imposter syndrome is actually far more widespread than you would think, it’s just not widely spoken about so it feels like we’re alone with our doubts.
There are five specific personality types that are most likely to suffer from imposter syndrome:
· The Perfectionist – You set excessively high goals for yourself, and when you fail to reach a goal, you experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up.
· The Expert – You measure your competence based on “what” and “how much” you know or can do. Believing you’ll never know enough and fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.
· The Soloist – Your self-worth stems from your productivity, so you shy away from asking for help because it seems like a sign of weakness or incompetence.
· The Superwoman – Deep down inside, you feel inadequate because you feel the need to work as hard as possible.
· The Natural Genius – You believe you need to be a natural “genius.” As such, you judge your competence-based ease and speed as opposed to your efforts. In other words, if you take a long time to master something, you feel shame.
Maybe you see yourself in one of these descriptions, or maybe a little of yourself in all of them (I certainly do!). The underlying problem we all face is that we don’t feel we deserve our success. These feelings unfortunately tend to affect professional women more than men. I once read a Harvard Business Review article which said that women applied to 20% fewer jobs than men do. The article explained that this was because women wouldn’t apply if they felt that they didn’t meet 100% of the listed criteria. Men, on the other hand, would apply if they met 60%.
So what can you do to overcome this debilitating syndrome? Here are three strategies you can use to take control and beat back feelings of inadequacy when they’re slowing you down at work, or in life:
· Recognise the signs and take action
Once you know what to look out for – self-doubt, being overly critical, finding yourself in a negative thought spiral – stop and do something else. The most dangerous place to be is inside your head. So, take a break from what you’re doing, go for a walk, do 10 push-ups, and strike a power pose. Anything to break the immediate thought cycle and gain some perspective.
· Document your achievements
Consider keeping a success file. Take screenshots when colleagues or your boss tell you what a great job you’ve done. Store these in a folder on your laptop or even print them out, and each time you feel self-doubt creeping in, open that file and remind yourself of the fantastic things you’ve accomplished. Your future self will thank you.
· Realise it’s not just you
If you come away with nothing else from reading this article, remember that it’s not just you who feels this way. Find people to talk to and share your experiences. More likely than not your mentor or your friends have been through something similar. And if you’re a manager and you promote a woman on your team, take the time to tell them that they’ve earned the success they’ve achieved.
While we are unlikely to ever fully escape the spectre of imposter syndrome, with the right tools and support in place, we can successfully overcome these feelings so that they won’t get in the way of us achieving our goals.
Watch Jade’s full-length Women Lift Women webinar “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace”here.