According to the National Institutes of Health, “Imposter syndrome is a behavioral health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals.” Oftentimes, it results in individuals feeling like a fraud or a phony and having self-doubt in areas of their life in which they excel.
The concept of Imposter Syndrome was first studied and given a name in 1978 by clinical psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. In their study, Clance and Imes observed the experiences of 150 women who earned PHDs and who were either highly respected in their field or were students recognized for their high academic achievements. Despite those accolades, the praise of peers, and successful careers, they believed “luck” was the reason behind their success and not their intelligence nor capabilities. Clance and Imes attributed Imposter Syndrome to “societal messages that women did not belong in powerful or lofty positions.” While Clance and Imes' study focused solely on women, it is now known that Imposter Syndrome can be experienced by different genders, in different settings, and in various ways. It is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one “episode” of Imposter Syndrome in their lifetime.
What Does Imposter Syndrome Look Like:
To gain a better understanding of what Imposter Syndrome is and how it can affect individuals, here are a few examples:
An employee recently was promoted and does not like to use her title because she feels like a fraud since she hasn’t mastered the job yet.
A new business owner chose not to join a local entrepreneur networking group because he feels like he is a “phony” entrepreneur who doesn’t have enough experience yet in ownership to offer value to the group’s members.
You receive a professional award, but feel like an imposter because you do not think you have high enough achievements to receive it.
Common Characteristics of Imposter Syndrome
It is, of course, common for individuals to doubt themselves or question their capabilities from time to time. However, if this self-doubt is more the norm than the exception then experiencing Imposter Syndrome could be the culprit.
Below are some of the typical characteristics that are present with Imposter Syndrome:
Self-doubt (consistently) - lack of self-worth can create anxiety related to your ability to succeed
Inability to realistically assess your competence and capabilities - lack of confidence that you possess the talent, capability, and knowledge to perform your role and succeed at it
Attributing success to external factors - credit your achievements to situational factors beyond your control
Continual fear that you will not live up to expectations - negates ability to achieve goals because you feel you are unable to fulfill expectations set forth by yourself or others
Overachieving - desire to set unrealistically high standards to accommodate for feeling inadequate when accomplishing realistic, timely, complex, and challenging goals
Sabotaging your own success - fear of success due to believing success is unattainable no matter how hard or often you try to attain it; it’s just not meant for you.
Undervaluing your contributions - underestimating how much your skills and abilities contributed to your success
How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome:
While Imposter Syndrome can create havoc in your professional development, it is something that can be overcome. It is a saboteur, or nagging voice in your head, that with a little redirection in your thinking, you can silence.
Share your feelings - When you open up to others about feeling like a fraud, you may find that other people share those same feelings. Listening to others’ unfounded feelings may help you to see that your feelings are equally as unfounded. Talking to other people also helps you verbalize exactly how you are feeling. Oftentimes, speaking our thoughts out loud is the first step in finding ways to overcome them.
Keep an achievement List - Write down a list of your strengths, achievements, and accomplishments. Include the compliments and positive feedback you receive from others. Read through the list weekly and continually add to that list. Celebrate and embrace all you’ve done!
Question your thoughts - As negativity, self-doubt, fear of failing, and other imposter thoughts enter your mind, question those thoughts. Ask yourself are those thoughts rational and does it make sense to consider yourself a fraud given all the achievements you’ve accomplished?
Learn how to accept compliments - When someone offers you a compliment, rather than denying it or downplaying it, simply say thank you.
Embrace Positive Self-Talk - Think positively about yourself. Rather than saying, “I don’t have the skills needed to do that,” instead say “I am going to put forth my best effort and see what I can learn from this experience.”
Do not compare yourself to others - When we compare ourselves to others, we often find inadequacies in ourselves, which lead our thoughts down a path of not being good enough nor belonging here. Instead, truly focus on getting to know the individual and what you can learn from them.
Refuse to let it hold you back - Despite feelings of fraud or not belonging, try it anyways. Do not allow those feelings to prevent you from aiming high and pursuing your lofty goals.