Hey, Young Writer.
You know that awful, phony feeling you get no matter how long you’ve been in your field, how great people say your work is, and how much expertise you have? Your internal dialogue continually sounds something like:
“This is way out of my league.”
“They’re going to find out I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“There’s no way I should be doing this job. I’m not qualified!”
You’re not imagining that feeling, friend. Imposter syndrome is very real, and it’s eating away at your ability to enjoy and thrive in your career. Today we’re going to unpack that experience and discuss some combative tips to help you flourish a little more.
Imposter Syndrome: An Overview
A 1993 research paper published by the Georgia State University provides the following definition of imposter syndrome:
“[It is] the psychological experience of believing that one’s accomplishments came about not through genuine ability, but as a result of having been lucky, having worked harder than others, or having manipulated other people’s impressions.”
People with imposter syndrome severely doubt themselves. They always feel inadequate despite their talents, skills, and achievements. They feel like they’re wearing a mask and live in constant fear that it will slip off and expose them as “massive frauds.”
The Different “Imposter” Types
In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, imposter syndrome expert Dr. Valerie Young breaks down the types of victims into five subcategories.
Here’s how I like to describe them. Brace yourself. I’m on your side!
As a perfectionist, you’ve got to do and be the best in everything. You set excessively high goals and become overly harsh with yourself if you fail. You have a hard time delegating to others because you’re obsessed with immaculate results. People have called you a micromanaging control-freak – and they’re not wrong.
As a superperson, you feel like you’ve got to work longer and harder than everyone else to measure up. You stay at the office later than your co-workers, take on more assignments, and sacrifice your personal life and passions to get it all done. Face it. You’re a workaholic.
As a soloist, you shy away from asking for help because it’s a sign of weakness. If you didn’t make it all happen on your own, were you even successful? You’re a one-person band and proud of it.
As a natural genius, everything you do should come with ease. You think you should already know or be good at things with little to no effort. The longer it takes for you to master something, the lower your self-esteem. And if at first, you don’t succeed? Forget it; you’re a failure.
As an expert, you’re always on the quest to acquire more knowledge to prove your worth. You never feel like you know enough, which stops you from going after opportunities that may expose your lack of ability. Instead of taking action, you frequently procrastinate and spend way too long in the “research” phase of almost every goal.
Ouch. Do any of these sound familiar?
3 Tips to Fight the Voices in Your Head
So, how do you deal with imposter syndrome? There’s no one cure, but there are a few actions you can take.
Talk About It
Did you know that 70% of people struggle with imposter syndrome at some point in their lives? Most of them are competent individuals, if not high-achievers.
I recently discussed this topic with grief and trauma ghostwriter Alee Anderson. After six years of helping clients journey through their pain, publishing multiple successful books, and scaling her business to a six-figure earning machine, she still feels inadequate from time to time.
Even world-renowned poet Maya Angelou famously once said: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”
Imposter syndrome is an insanely common experience, but it’s normal to feel like your case is an isolated one. People generally don’t volunteer information about their faults, especially in competitive environments. Be brave. Get the conversation going in your circle with people you trust. You’ll soon find out that you’re far from alone.
Rehearse Your Accomplishments
Here’s a mind-blowing concept: just because you feel like a fraud doesn’t mean it’s true. Think about it. When was the last time you took a step back and objectively looked at the facts? For example:
It’s unlikely that you accidentally scored among the highest in the region after sitting your CPA exam.
It’s statistically improbable that the last 13 projects you successfully led were happy coincidences.
It’s kind of a reach to assume you only lucked out when getting that Ph.D. in Neuroscience.
And so on.
Maybe you have greater or smaller achievements. Wins are wins. Keeping a catalogue of and consistently reviewing them will force you to face the facts. It doesn’t matter how fake you feel. What does your track record say? That’s what matters in the end.
Reframe Your Mindset
Talking about your perceived deficiencies and reviewing your merits are great ways to start, but the real results lie in reframing your thought life.
Dr. Young once stated at a TED Talk that the only difference between imposters and non-imposters is how each group thinks. Non-imposters aren’t generally more bright or gifted than their counterparts; they just think about things differently. For instance, they:
- Know and accept that they won’t demonstrate brilliance in everything
- Don’t associate deep shame with mistakes or failure
- Receive compliments without overjustifying or overanalyzing them
- Embrace learning curves
- Avoid self-comparison
Your thoughts generally dictate how you feel. Consequently, you must stop thinking like an imposter to stop feeling like one. You must actively choose non-imposter thoughts.
Psychologists generally can’t agree on one cure for imposter syndrome. There probably isn’t one. Still, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Train yourself to pay attention to the signs and take necessary action to keep your peace of mind.
Ginika Ebenebe is a Vancouver-based freelance writer in the career and personal development space. As an accountant turned freelance writer, she is passionate about inspiring others to find and thrive in professions they enjoy.
Thank you for writing this! I have been dealing with imposter syndrome lately and feel validated now.
Aww, I’m so glad, Jessica!