If you struggle with perfectionism, anxiety and self-doubt you may be dealing with a phenomenon known as imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the persistent feeling that one’s own achievements were not accomplished out the merits of their own abilities and skills, but rather through sheer luck. People suffering with imposter syndrome simply feel like they are frauds. Regardless of the skills they have worked hard to develop to reach their accomplishments, they have a hard time accepting that they have earned their accolades and tend to attribute most of their successes to good fortune and circumstances outside of themselves.
People of all success levels are susceptible to imposter syndrome. Maya Angelou is one of the most successful poets in American history. She’s been nominated for a Pulitzer prize, a Tony Award, won three Grammys for her spoken word albums, earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work as a civil rights activist and was awarded more than 50 honorary degrees. Yet she once famously wrote “I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ This is imposter syndrome. Though she’s clearly accomplished, she felt like a fraud. The great and incomparable Maya Angelou believed she was an imposter.
So how do we know if it’s imposter syndrome or if we’re actually unqualified? There are some common signs to look out for. The Harvard Business Review identified that people with imposter syndrome tend to struggle with perfectionism. Individuals set “excessively high, unrealistic goals and then experience self-defeating thoughts and behaviors when they can’t reach those goals …perfectionism often turns neurotic imposters into workaholics.”
Another sign that it is imposter syndrome is if you have found some success in life but you’re convinced you are not deserving of it. If you got that dream job, or that promotion or your business is doing well, it’s probably a key indicator that you’re not unqualified. Unqualified people are rarely able to achieve such feats. However, if you have determined that you are unqualified, that’s okay too. The remedy is to start developing the skills needed to earn your way to success.
Imposter syndrome will also cause an individual to distrust one’s own capabilities and intuition, it will result in negative self-talk and cause irrational fears of the future. It can cause you to burn yourself out by taking on extra work in order to prove that you can do it all. It can rob you of opportunities by not applying to jobs unless you reach every single requirement. So how do we deal with the pervasive anxious cycle of imposter syndrome?
Start with acknowledging your abilities. Getting into the habit of writing down all your skills and how they have helped to get you where you are is a great start. Recognize that your feelings aren’t facts. We all occasionally have days where we feel stupid or incapable but it doesn’t mean that the feeling of inadequacy is proof of inadequacy. Acknowledge those feelings but don’t identify with them. An emotion does not define who you are as a person. Learn to know when you actually don’t know something. You may be challenged with a task and start to feel overwhelmed because you have no idea how to accomplish it. No big deal. Take that information as a cue to start asking questions, do research and start learning how to do that skill so you can accomplish your goal. With that in mind, never forget that you are capable of learning new things. It is normal to not know everything. It is normal to have to develop new skills along the way. Never forget that one of our biggest capabilities as humans is our ability to learn so even though you may not know something now, you can always learn how to do it later.