You’ve worked your whole life to lead up to this moment. You’ve put in the hours, studied your heart out, and visualized this achievement repeatedly. And now, you've landed a big promotion, yet you feel that there must be a mix-up somehow. That surely someone smarter than ourselves will realize that we're a fake?
Consequently, you're not alone.
The culprit of these feelings of doubt and insecurity is "imposter syndrome," a condition that's more common than you may think.
What is the Imposter Syndrome
The imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud". People who experience imposter syndrome often attribute their success to external factors such as luck, rather than to their own abilities or hard work. They may also struggle with feelings of inadequacy, and may be overly self-critical.
Imposter syndrome can affect anyone, but it is particularly common among high-achievers, such as those in academia, high-powered careers, or creative fields. It can be especially challenging for those who have experienced discrimination or marginalization, as they may doubt their legitimacy in their chosen field.
The term "Imposter Syndrome" was first coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, they described it as an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.
Research shows that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome in their lifetime.
Moreover, If you let it, this condition could hold you back from your true potential.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome
The truth is, different factors can contribute to the development of this phenomenon in different individuals. Here is a list of some of the possible causes or contributing factors:
- Perfectionism: Individuals who have high standards for themselves and others may find it difficult to internalize their successes, and may instead attribute their accomplishments to luck or external factors.
- Social comparison: Constant social comparison, comparing oneself to others who are perceived as more accomplished or successful can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
- Unrealistic expectations: If the expectations set by oneself or by others are too high, not achieving them can cause a sense of failure and doubt.
- Early failures or rejections: Early failures or rejections, particularly in the field of interest can create a sense of insecurity and self-doubt which can carry over to future experiences.
- Trauma or past experiences: Past traumas or negative experiences can contribute to feelings of self-doubt, insecurity and anxiety which can then contribute to imposter syndrome.
Here's the good news: You can proactively regain your confidence and own your accomplishments.
Who is Impacted By Imposter Syndrome
Millennials are feeling it! This generation is prone to this condition for many reasons (we'll get to that in a minute). However, Boomers, Gen X, and even some Traditionalists continue to experience the imposter syndrome.
This phenomenon came to be in 1978, characterized as a persistent fear of feeling like a fraud. People with imposter syndrome feel not good enough or smart enough for the task. They attribute external factors like luck or timing to their advancement rather than skill, talent, and hard work.
Here's the thing: Imposter syndrome doesn't just disappear once you've reached the pinnacle of success. They live with the fear of others "finding out" that they're a fraud, and their feeling can even intensify the higher they climb.
There are several factors at play that trigger these feelings. Perhaps the most obvious is social media.
Today, you're not just comparing yourself to others in your department or organization but to the universe.
A glimpse at someone's great website or seeing their thousands of Instagram followers can easily make us feel inadequate.
Millennials and the Imposter Syndrome
Accordingly, Millennials have been conditioned to compare themselves to peers online. Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn play a big role in their insecurities.
In addition, "fear of missing out," FOMO, was introduced by Millennials. Social media makes it easy to be constantly connected. Consequently, hours spent updating status, and sharing pictures of the latest and greatest parts of life adds to their FOMO.
In addition, dubbed "digital natives", Millennials are expected to have a standout digital knowledge as well as technological advancements.
On top of everything else, Millennials get negative press. One survey found that just 39% of employees believe Millennials to be hard-working. Others see Millennials as entitled, narcissistic, lazy. We've heard about Millennials and the trophies ad nauseam.
Consequently, Millennials feel they have to continually "prove themselves."
Much is written about this generation's delayed entry to adulthood. Today, Millennials are less likely to achieve the traditional adult "milestones" that their parents.
According to the new study from Bowling Green State University, Millennials are delaying adulthood. Accordingly, fewer Millennials are married, fewer are living on their own, and fewer own their own homes. All of these factors can fuel the flames of imposter syndrome.
Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
In addition, imposter syndrome can spiral into anxiety and depression and hold you back in both your personal and professional life.
Here are a few simple tips to help combat this condition:
Stop the social media shame game
When you scale back from social media, you have room to focus on developing yourself. You become more confident in your own right, rather than making unhealthy, disillusioned comparisons.
The person you should be competing against is the one staring back at you in the mirror.
Reflect on how far you’ve come since college, your first job, or last week. When you frame it from that perspective, it's clear how much incredible growth has occurred.
Record your accomplishments
Keep track of the victories, small and large, that reflect your competence. Look back on those emails of praise or projects that make you feel proud when you’re feeling low.
You can store them all in one Google Doc for easy access and a reminder that you’ve succeeded.
Learn to "receive" Compliments
Receiving a compliment can be very difficult for some people, whether to avoid feeling uncomfortable, feeling undeserving or simply as a way to be humble.
That said, not being able to receive a compliment has a long-term negative impact on one's self-esteem and overall well-being.
Why? Because you are subconsciously telling yourself you are not worthy of one's praise and recognition, which can keep you stuck in a damaging negative feedback loop.
When people compliment your work, don't deflect or deny the achievement. Simply practice saying, "Thank you!"
Provide value to others
“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” This centuries-old quote certainly rings true for us today. Focusing on helping others is an incredibly effective way to get outside yourself and halt imposter syndrome.
Focus on continued growth
No matter how high up the ladder you are, accept that you don't know everything. That realization can be incredibly freeing.
Working on building and strengthening your emotional intelligence skills will greatly help.
Also, focus on building confidence by reading books like Meridith Elliott Powell's, Confidence Plan.
Specifically, read the industry news, watch Squawk Box on CNBC, and sign up for a class to learn a new skill. Growth comes from learning, and learning will strengthen your confidence. Bonus-you’ll never be bored!
Develop a support system within your industry
Pretending as if you have it together doesn't make imposter syndrome go away. Actually, it can exacerbate the issue. Make sure you have friends (and ideally, a trusted mentor) that you can turn to in your industry for support, guidance, and wisdom.
Don't forget about your non-professional support system!
Sometimes it can be tough to untangle what we do from who we are. It's helpful to disconnect from work, grow your personal circle of friends, and have some fun.
Moreover, most of us will experience imposter syndrome to one degree or another. Don't beat yourself up when those feelings of inadequacy arise. Instead, embrace the coping mechanisms above and remember that each day is a learning experience. We all have doubts, and we must move forward anyway.
It's impossible to be an imposter when you're authentically you. Believe in yourself and embrace your gifts and be there for those who need you. Remember to encourage others to shine their light as well!