If you do, you’re not alone. You’re experiencing ‘Imposter Syndrome’. A recent study found that an estimated 70% of people suffer from it. I’ve felt it a number of times during the course of my career. I felt it most while completing my PhD. The response from my academic supervisor, and the university at large, was an endorsement of the quality of my work. But if you asked me, I often felt like my work wasn’t good enough. I often felt like someone would read my papers and find something wrong with my research. Quite the opposite happened. So, why did I feel like this? Let’s take Key Steps to understand the various competency types of imposter syndrome and see which competency type you relate to most? Mine are 1.1 and 1.4:
1. What is imposter syndrome? It’s a psychological phenomenon that reflects a belief that you’re inadequate and incompetent, despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful. Many high achievers share this dirty little secret. Expert on the subject, Dr Valerie Young, has categorised it into subgroups:
1.1 The Perfectionist: Perfectionism and impostor syndrome often go hand-in-hand. A perfectionist can achieve an extremely high standard but, if it isn’t 100%, feel it isn’t good enough. They often micromanage and find it hard to delegate.
1.2 The Superwoman/man: They are convinced they’re phonies among real-deal colleagues, so they often push themselves to work harder and harder to measure up and feel like they constantly need to ‘earn their stripes.’ This can lead to workaholism and burnout.
1.3 The Natural Genius: This type believe they need to be a natural ‘genius.’ They judge themselves and feel ashamed if they take a long time to master something. They set the internal bar impossibly high, just like perfectionists.
1.4 The Soloist: This type believes that asking for help makes them a phony. They feel that they need to accomplish everything on their own.
1.5 The Expert: They measure their competence based on “what” and “how much” they know or can do. Believing they will never know enough. They fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable because they can feel like they’ve tricked their way into their position and that they don’t deserve it.
2. What can we do about it? There are a number of Key Steps you can take:
2.1 Know your triggers. Is it a new job, speaking in public, being selected to be part of an important project? Whatever it is, when you can identify it, you can manage it better. Also be aware that if you grew up being told you are “the smart one” it increases your risk of suffering with imposter syndrome.
2.2 Talk about it. Speaking with a trusted friend, family member and/or mental health professional can be a great first step. It’ll make you realise that you are not alone and also help you to assess your strengths and weaknesses realistically and distinguish between your perception and the reality of the situation. Often the reality is very different from our picture, as shown below:
2.3 Remind yourself of all the things you’re good at and what you have achieved. Write a list and keep it where you can see it every day. You might even want to write your life story as if someone was going to use it to introduce you at a large conference (you wouldn’t brush off your accomplishments then). This will build your confidence by reminding you that you are not an imposter. If you catch yourself in negative self-talk (things like, “I might have been awarded this job but…”), you can use your list to challenge your inner critic and get rid of the BUT!
2.4 Remind yourself that the people who got you here are very competent and didn’t make a mistake. I remember the first time I was asked to do negotiation skills training with an ExCo team; my inner gremlin said, “Why me? There must be so many experts they could’ve called on who could do a better job.” I had to really challenge the critic by saying things like, “I am the expert, that’s why they called. And getting my PhD wasn’t an accident – it was hard work and it’s been published. And the client has seen me present many times so they chose me for a reason.”
2.5 Take comfort in the reality that imposter syndrome is a sign of success. Research shows that the most successful people – like famous actors, authors, artists, CEOs – are those most likely to suffer from imposter syndrome. So, if you feel like a fraud, remind yourself that you are actually doing something right. Keep going and keep taking Key Steps to…
“be the difference that makes the difference”