Imposter Syndrome: What it is and how to overcome it!

5 Tips for Dealing with the Feeling of Being a “Fraud”

“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.’”  –Maya Angelou

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is the feeling of being inadequate or undeserving despite having success.  Those suffering from impostor syndrome tend to attribute their success to luck, timing, charm, outside help, or something else other than their own hard work, qualifications, and abilities.  Although counter- intuitive, the fear of being a “fraud” is pretty common, particularly among high-achievers.  It is estimated that approximately 70% of people suffer from impostor syndrome at some point in their life.  Even highly successful people, including Tina Fey, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, have suffered from impostor syndrome.

Check our GirlSide Chats podcast Episode #2 for more discussion about dealing with impostor syndrome as a woman.

Why Do We Get Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome can come from holding unrealistic notions of what it means to be “competent” or by setting the personal bar exceedingly (perhaps unrealistically) high.  In response to occasional “failures” (real or perceived), those suffering from impostor syndrome (including myself) may engage in behaviors, such as procrastination or perfectionism, leaving the person paralyzed with fear about being anything other than “perfect.”  While feeling anticipation about doing something new is normal, a long-term “impostor” mindset can contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Basically, if I don’t feel like I’m good enough, I’m not going to actually be good enough.   

Tips for Dealing with Impostor Syndrome

  1. Realize that you’ve contributed to your own success. 

Most of us receive help or support at some point along our journey, but remember that it is you who did something with that assistance to accomplish your goals.  You play a central role in your own destiny.

      2. Dare to suck.

We all have to figure out what works for us by trying things.  This means that we risk looking foolish, being wrong, making mistakes, or (deep breath) failing at some point.  Keep in mind that anyone who has ever had any success at all ever has dared to suck.  This is how we learn and grow. 

     3. Express yourself.

According to StartUpBros, part of the twisted mindset that causes impostor syndrome is the unconscious belief that you have extreme powers or that you are a freak.  They suggest several writing exercises that can help you express these feelings and look at these feelings more objectively. 

Exercise Option 1:

Write for 30 minutes (this is only for you).  Jot down as many insane things as you can about yourself, your most ridiculous beliefs, the craziest things that you’ve thought.  Seeing these things on paper doesn’t make them go away, but expressing and externalizing these thoughts (and the associated feelings) can help put them into perspective.

Exercise Option 2:

Try stream-of-conscious writing.  Write for 30 minutes nonstop—do not put your pen down.  If there is no thought in your head then write “I can’t think of anything” until you do.  This will constantly put you in touch with what’s going on inside yourself.

     4. Treat everything as an experiment.

Thinking of projects as experiments allows you to look objectively at what worked (and what didn’t) and make any necessary adjustments for next time.  Reframing projects as experiments can reduce the tendency to internalize the stuff that didn’t go as desired.

     5. Talk about feeling like a “fraud.”

If possible, find one person that you trust with whom you can share your feelings.  Simply expressing these feelings can be helpful for gaining perspective.  And you are likely to learn that you are not the only one who feels this way!

You have great things to contribute to the world!  Don’t let feelings of being a “fraud” stop you from putting yourself out there and making a positive impact.  Own your power and join us on February 15, 2018 for our monthly in-person GirlSide Chats event where we will be having a candid discussion about dealing with impostor syndrome.

See you on the GirlSide!

Heather Conklin

Heather Conklin

Heather C. Conklin is a political scientist, speaker, and the founder of SPOT Strategies, focusing on empowering emerging leaders for a better future. Connect with Heather on Twitter at @HC_Conklin.

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