I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while,
but always chicken out – so here goes.
Ever felt like you didn’t belong somewhere? As if your skill, intellect, talent (or some other characteristic that you pride yourself in having) wasn’t nearly as good as everyone else’s talent? In your workplace, your program, a sports team, a book club or anywhere else? Do you feel like some things are too good to be true?
If so, I hate to break it to you, but you probably suffer from Imposter Syndrome. It’s okay; so do I and thousands of other people who have never even heard the term. The first step to understanding why you have it is to understand what Imposter Syndrome means.
You catch this virus the minute you start thinking “I’m not supposed to be here.” Whether it’s at work, school, or in any other social setting, it implies thinking that you aren’t good enough for something. Imposter Syndrome is typically accompanied by the strong belief that you are a fraud, and that people will find out any second. It’s when you feel like you don’t entirely know what you’re doing, yet you somehow fooled other people into believing you are way more competent than you truly are.
After watching this talk by Amy Cuddy, I realized her points really hit close to home. For the longest time, intellect was one of her defining characteristics – she identified with being smart before anything else. That is, until she suffered a traumatic accident and head injuries. When her core identity was taken away from her, she was completely lost. She was told she would never finish college. Everything after that point was, for her, tainted with symptoms of Imposter Syndrome. Even after graduating despite the odds, she didn’t feel like she deserved to be where she was. After landing a great job, she refused to believe she was truly justified in being there. She says it herself: “I worked hard, I got lucky, I worked hard, and I got lucky again.” This is the essence of Imposter Syndrome.
Some people confuse Imposter Syndrome with humility or – worse – false humility. When people congratulate me or acknowledge something I’ve done well, I get flushed and shy away. I’ll mumble something about it being “nothing”, while in my head, the following thoughts are most likely blaring:
- If only they knew how little I did
- It took me so long to get this done, they’re definitely sarcastic?
- Do they really mean that, or they think they would’ve done it better?
- They’re unto me, run!
In my five years at Glendon, four of them as a Philosophy major, I relate to Cuddy’s talk more than anything. All humble-brag aside, I always considered myself to be pretty smart. I was always known as a nerd in high school; I was the local bookworm who always had something to say. But in university, things changed. I felt like everyone else was smarter, more well read, competent, and knew so much more than I did. I even wrote about it a few years back, when I didn’t even know about Imposter Syndrome. It got to the point where I became too self-conscious to talk in class, for fear of appearing stupid.
Yet, here I am with THREE MONTHS remaining in my undergraduate program (whaaat), about to graduate with a B.A. Honours in Philosophy. Honestly, a large part of me still believes I faked most of it, that I got lucky with considerate professors, or I didn’t deserve the good grades I got. But one thing I cannot deny is that I made it, and in a few weeks, I’ll have a pretty expensive (and neat) piece of paper to prove it.
Imposter Syndrome can also rear its ugly face in relationships: it’s just a matter of time until they find out I’m not as funny, confident, or good-looking as they seem to think, right? Wrong. Think about it. Think about it really hard. Does that even make logical sense? No.
I sometimes get this feeling in my jobs as well, though less often. It usually comes in the form of:
- You suck
- Why can’t you do this quicker
- They’ll find someone better than you
- You suck
- Wow good job you got that one thing done
- But it could’ve been better
- Did I mention you suck
People with Imposter Syndrome are probably the meanest people…to themselves. The irony of it all is, people who suffer from Imposter Syndrome are usually very hard-working, achieving, capable, and talented people – and for that, they tend to be their own toughest critics.
We need to start considering everything we’ve accomplished at face value. Take a moment to appreciate the hard work you’ve done and how it all came together. When someone compliments you, examine the way it makes you feel, and try to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of refusing it. Make a list of all your successes, small, and big.
More importantly, keep making moves. While it’s awesome to look back on past wins, don’t underestimate the power of setting more goals to accomplish. Being hard at work should keep your mind from all those imposter-y thoughts. Do not let the fear of accomplishment paralyze you!
TL;DR: If you recognized yourself in any of these points while speed-reading, chin up: you’re probably doing so much better than you realize!
I’d love to hear/read your thoughts on this – so comment below, or tweet me @FrancetteMGL!
P-S: Here are more ways to beat Imposter Syndrome and fake it ‘til you make it.