Imposter Syndrome: How to stop it in its tracks
Does this sound familiar? You work hard, you’ve earned your spot at the table, but you have this nagging fear that one day “they are all going to wake up and realize you don’t know as much as they think you do.” Yep, you got it bad. You’ve got a case of Imposter Syndrome.
It doesn’t matter what it is - a new project, starting a new job, trying to learn something new, delivering a presentation, launching a business, dreaming up big life goals - I always experience this brief moment where I feel like a fraud. “What am I doing?” I think to myself. “I can’t do this, who am I kidding?” And even when I know I’m capable or when I know I’ve earned it, I still fear that others will “find me out” and realize I don’t belong.
(Mean Girl movie quote: “She doesn’t even go here!”)
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Imposter Syndrome:
“a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”…Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
The reason I’m writing about this is because I think many of us suffer from this terrible belief that we are unworthy of good things or not enough as we are. As a result, we tend to sell ourselves short and buy into self-limiting beliefs.
Take this as an example: I just got a promotion at work and for a few days I was convinced they had made a mistake. “How did I make them believe I can do this job?” I panicked internally while attempting to look "natural" at my desk. It didn't matter what I'd done to get here - university and postgraduate degrees, my years of experience, the successful projects I managed, the strong relationships I built - I felt out of place. The congratulatory emails flooded in from wonderful colleagues affirming my new job is "well-deserved" and instead I focused on two other words altogether: "is it?" When I realized what was happening, I felt like I was catching myself falling.
I got to thinking of other moments where I felt unworthy of my achievements (not always, but there were definitely other times). Even worse, I realized how often I question myself as I pursue my dreams. That familiar, sneering voice will pipe up: “Who are you to want such things? You could never accomplish something like that!” There’s no need to spell it out (but I will): that’s self-sabotage.
I recently heard someone say these words:
"Your purpose is bigger than you are."
Do you know what she meant by that? She meant you are always going to be invited to step out of your comfort zone in order to progress further along towards your purpose. That middle ground between comfort and evolution is where you NEED to be. So yes, perhaps you'll feel like an "imposter" for a brief moment along the way, but if you never did, then you're not really pushing yourself to be better, are you?
This awareness makes me stronger every time my mind wanders to that dark place. Of course, it’s not a perfect formula; sometimes “self-sabotage” will rear its ugly head and snicker, but I’ve come to realize that in these moments, I have the power. The trick is knowing how to use it. So, here are 4 things you can do to get over Imposter Syndrome when it strikes:
1. Change that self-talk
Tune into your inner dialogue. What do you hear? A sneering, negative whisper or a supportive, positive voice? The difference between “yes” and “no” is seen in the psyche. Yes is so much more powerful. Ever heard the saying "happiness is a choice"? Well, so is your capacity to succeed and thrive. You only feel as good and as capable as you allow yourself to feel. I want to hear you say “I can do it” instead of “I’m way out of my league.” Write this down: your thoughts create your reality so choose your words with care.
2. Remember how awesome you actually are
We start to doubt our abilities when we forget our achievements or compare ourselves to everyone else’s cool exterior. When you aren’t able to internalize your accomplishments, you minimize your worth and allow yourself to believe you’re less intelligent, deserving or capable than you actually are (ahem: these are what we call self-limiting beliefs). Take a moment to list all the things you've accomplished - big and small - from completing a project to making it through that really crappy time. A little internal bragging will help you snap out of the illusion that you're not enough.
3. Realize everyone experiences the same thing
Imposter Syndrome gains its momentum from negative self-talk, but also from your inaccurate beliefs about others and what they're going through. We feel insecure when we believe others are hyper skilled, in complete control and supremely confident at all times. The truth is we all doubt ourselves A LOT. Seriously, no one actually knows what they’re doing in life. We’re all just throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing if it sticks.
4. Ignore the feeling and keep pushing forward
Imposter Syndrome only controls you if you’ve decided to care what other people think, and you know what’s funny? People don’t think about you nearly as much as you think they do - they’re way too busy worrying about themselves. And if you refer back to #1, you’ll realize the only thoughts you need to keep in check are your own.
There is nothing worse than feeling like you don’t belong, but self-doubt is going to come up in life every now and again. It’s a frustrating, but necessary part of human experience. My advice? Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. It means you're on the right track. And with everything that already makes it difficult to rise up in this world, the last thing you need to be fighting is yourself. In the end, it all comes down to choice: believe in yourself or break yourself down.
If nothing else, remember this: at any given moment, you are exactly where you’re meant to be. Every decision in your life has led you here. Now, how could that be a mistake?