Do you attribute your success to luck or timing?
Do you believe “If I can do it, anyone can?”
Do you agonise over the smallest flaws in your work?
Are you crushed by even constructive criticism, seeing it as evidence of your ineptitude?
When you do succeed, do you secretly feel like you’ve fooled them again?
Do you worry that it is only a matter of time before you are found out?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may have a touch of the “Imposter Syndrome.” It is a well-kept secret that many successful people suffer from this, especially people in high-profile positions or positions of authority.
Mike Myers put it so nicely when he said:
People with Imposter Syndrome are convinced that they are frauds and they do not deserve the success they have achieved. Concrete evidence of success is typically dismissed as luck, timing or as the result of deceiving other’s into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
People with Imposter Syndrome have a nagging sense that any praise and recognition they receive is undeserved and their success is due to things like chance, charm or other external factors. Let’s see if any of these ring a bell for you.
I got lucky.
It’s because they like me.
If I can do it, anyone can.
I had connections.
I have no idea how I pulled it off.
They will sure be disappointed when they discover what a fraud I am.
If any of this looks familiar, try taking a moment to reflect on some of your successes, without explaining them away. This means leaving out the qualifiers and just sticking to the evidence. Certainly, timing, charm and connections can help, but luck can only take you so far. You must have played some part in your successes. Just try experimenting with truly owning your successes and feel the difference.
So, if you do find yourself swamped by imposter feelings, here are ten tips to help you out:
Feeling incompetent and being incompetent are two very different things
You don’t have to know everything
You don’t have to be good at everything
Competence means respecting your limitations
It is ok to build on the work of others
There are many paths to expertise
Your work does not have to be ground-breaking to be good
Competent people ask for advice and delegate
You don’t always have to feel confident to act confident
It is ok to “Fake it till you make it”
So, as you whittle away at any imposter feelings you may have, bear in mind that all truly competent people know that to a certain extent they are imposters. The difference between them and people with Imposter Syndrome is that they don’t see it as a problem. They know they may have to wing it a bit – especially in the beginning and they are fine with that.
Non-imposters are comfortable with not knowing stuff and realise that some fear and self-doubt are normal. Remember that you are ok right now and when you feel those fears rise up you can say: “It’s ok, I’m getting imposter feelings and I am going to keep going regardless.”
Frankfurt, Harry G. (2005) On Bullshit. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Sax, Linda J. And Astin, Alexander W. The Gender Gap in College: Maximising the Development Potential of Women and Men (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008).
Young, Valerie Ed.D. (2011) The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of it. Crown/Random House. ISBN 978-0307452719.