Have you ever had the feeling that, despite all of your success, you just didn’t deserve to be where you are now?
If so, you might have suffered from imposter syndrome, or the unjustified notion that your success is unmerited.
It’s a problem that’s actually quite common, and though it can affect anyone in any profession, it tends to be particularly prevalent among creatives.
Learning to recognize imposter syndrome is the first step toward stopping those negative thoughts that are probably holding you back from fulfilling your full potential.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome refers to an inability to believe that one’s own success is merited. People afflicted with this syndrome feel they will be ousted as a “fraud,” even when that belief is unfounded and there is no evidence to support it.
A few names you might recognize who have openly discussed their issues with imposter syndrome include Maya Angelou, Emma Watson, and Tina Fey. As you can see, an actual lack of success is rarely the cause of impostor system—in fact, it’s quire the opposite.
Both men and women can suffer from imposter syndrome, but it’s especially common for those in creative professions and it’s particularly dominant in women.
Common symptoms include feelings of fear or guilt over one’s success, fear of failure, and a denial of one’s abilities and talents.
What Is the Cause of Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome might be caused by a number of external factors, and pretty much anyone can experience it. It’s not recognized as an actual disorder; you might experience it in certain areas of your life and at different times.
However, there are a few environments in which impostor syndrome is more likely to manifest. These include:
- A new environment
- Academic settings
- The workplace
- Social interactions
Even if you’ve been writing for 15 years, for example, and you’ve won numerous awards and been recognized by critics, you might still be afraid of submitting your latest manuscript to a publisher for fear that you’re about to be discovered as a “fraud” or that everyone will realize you really have no talent.
So, while things like a new environment can help to trigger imposter syndrome, you can still be affected by it even if you’ve been doing the same job or working in the same environment for years.
What Does Imposter Syndrome Feel Like?
People who suffer from imposter syndrome—which many of us have at some point or another—often describe the experience as feeling like a “phony.”
They fear that at any moment someone will realize that all of their awards or recognition weren’t really merited.
Imposter syndrome can sometimes overlap with Social Anxiety Disorder, a disorder which causes people to feel that they don’t belong in certain social or performance situations.
While this might motivate some people to always do better, imposter syndrome often comes with the cost of high anxiety, which isn’t healthy. That’s why it’s important to recognize and learn how to deal with imposter syndrome.
How Do You Deal with Imposter Syndrome?
If you think you might suffer from imposter syndrome, there is a way to change it and overcome your anxiety caused by perfectionism.
1. Distinguish Feelings from Facts
Understand that just because you might feel stupid or inadequate sometimes (everyone does!) doesn’t mean that you actually are stupid or inadequate.
Heck, you might even do some pretty stupid things sometimes (again—everyone does!), but even that doesn’t make you a stupid person.
Next time you have feelings of inadequacy, stop and recognize that thought as a thought, and nothing more. Then let it go and remind yourself of everything you’ve actually achieved.
2. Stop Comparing Yourself
Thanks to social media, most of us have gotten into the unhealthy habit of comparing ourselves to others.
Perhaps you have friends who seem to have the perfect job, a happy family, loads of money, and crazy talent.
Stop comparing yourself to them! You are you, and you got to where you are because of your own intelligence, skills, and talent. It was not a mistake!
3. Share Your Feelings
When you have feelings of inadequacy, open up to a close friend or family member. Hearing their thoughts on your problem might help you put everything into perspective.
You might realize that all of your doubts and worries were just in your own head and completely unfounded.
4. Ask for Help
When you need help (whether at work or in your personal life), you should never feel like asking for help is a sign of weakness, or that you’re really not as good as everyone thinks.
Learn how to ask for help—something that not enough of us are comfortable doing—so that you can tackle problems faster and not sit in your problems alone (because that certainly won’t help anything, including imposter syndrome!)
5. Ask for Feedback
Pretend that you’re writing a performance review for another employee. Make a list of all of your accomplishments and strengths. Then, make a list of areas you feel you need to work on. (Be fair with yourself!)
Ask others for their honest feedback when performing this task. Once you see all of your achievements on paper—facts that no one can take away from you—you will hopefully realize that you’re worthy of your success and that you deserve to be where you are now.
Remember: If you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, that probably means that you’ve experienced at least some degree of success in your life.
Instead of doubting the validity of your success, turn those feelings of doubt into gratitude. Try keeping a gratitude journal, and reflect on everything you’re grateful for, including your accomplishments and skills.
This can help put everything in perspective, and with time you’ll learn to feel accepting and at peace with your performance, rather than guilt.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How did you deal with it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!