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In today’s day and age, we live in a world filled with great societal expectations. Always moving at an accelerated pace that makes it hard to keep up with others. Have you ever felt like an impostor among others? Having the feeling you don’t deserve your own success and the accomplishments you did? Or perhaps you feel a tremendous fear and anxiety that your peers will find out you are a fraud, and you are not as special as they think you are? From time to time, many people feel the same. You may have heard of the Impostor Syndrome or IS.
It was discovered by Dr. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 when they tested out how high achieving women perceived their success in their article. “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”.
Many think they are not smart at all from the people tested, that they graduated due to an error or mistake, or they just were lucky to enter a position. Some of its clinical symptoms are generalized anxiety, lack of self-confidence, depression, and frustration related to the inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievements.
Concerning other characteristics of this condition, investigators concluded it was more common in women. It was tested if the Impostor Syndrome was also frequent in men, but it seemed much less prevalent and less intense.
This can be explained by the social stigma or gender-stereotype about women not supposed to be independent and embrace their own achievements — they were educated for generations to be households and take care of the children. Nonetheless, even though the world was easier on the men in some aspects and it seemed simpler for them to own their success, I still have this feeling that society still creates a pressure on them, always waiting to see how they will react with others. And that might contribute to the general anxiety found in their Imposterism.
Types of Impostor Syndrome
Impostor Syndrome can be categorized into five different types.
You set impossibly high standards but blame yourself when it doesn’t turn out the way you imagined. You experience major self-doubt and have trouble measuring your goals and what you can achieve with what you have. It’s like: if you want something done right, you have to do it by yourself.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you micromanage things: planning things to its every single detail and step?
- Do you find it challenging to delegate things? Even if you can, do you feel frustrated or disappointed in the results?
- When you miss the super high mark you set for yourself, do you feel like “you weren’t cut out for that job” and blame yourself for days on end?
- Do you feel like everything must be perfect 100% of all time?
Success to you is hardly satisfying because you think you could always do much better. But try celebrating small wins, small victories like finally finishing up the tasks you started, or finally baking that delicious cake!
Mistakes will be made, but they all are part of the natural way to improve yourself. Everyone makes them. You just fail fast and experiment with other solutions to get where you want and learn to accept your small achievements.
Sometimes you might feel like a phony among others or that you are being left behind, so you will work thrice as hard as your peers and keep pushing yourself out of your limits to meet up with them.
Overworking like this is extremely harmful to your mental health and your relationships with others since you are too obsessed with doing something and only seeing it and nothing else in front of you.
Ask yourself this:
- Do you stay late after working hours in the office, even if you have finished all the necessary work for today?
- Do you stress when you are not working and feel that you are wasting time with your downtimes?
- Have you sacrificed your hobbies and passions to focus on work?
- Do you think you didn’t earn your title (despite your achievements), so you deem you have to work harder to truly deserve it?
What is upsetting you is constantly looking for validation of your worth, not necessarily working for the job itself. Try to move away from the pesky validation and celebrate the small success. No one should feel prouder than you for receiving the green light of a project you work so much on. Likewise, the criticism that is given on the projects is not direct and personal accusations against you. They are little ideas and feedback for you to improve your product and yourself as well. And learn to give it to others.
The Natural Genius
You think you need to be the “natural” genius, giving great importance to the ease and speed you do your tasks instead of your effort. If you take longer than you imagine to do something, you feel ashamed.
Like perfectionists, you also judge yourself on ridiculously high expectations, but you think you need to meet those goals right on the first time…and FAST!
Think of these questions:
- Are you used to always getting “straight A’s” or “golden stars”?
- Do you feel you don’t need to put much effort into things that you will succeed?
- Have your family labeled you as the “smart one” among them?
- Mentors are not for you because you think you can handle yourself?
- When you are faced with a setback, your confidence shakes and becomes shame?
- Do you avoid challenges because you feel uncomfortable that you might not excel at that?
Think of yourself as a work in progress. You already achieved so much, but challenges and obstacles will always appear in front of you, and they are perfect for skill-building and learning to improve yourself. Take the chance to analyze the specific actions you need to overcome the challenges that come ahead of you.
In fact, it might help you as well to unlearn the things you’ve learned, and face new challenges. See our blog post about how to unlearn things for some advice on how to do so.
If you ask for help, you think everyone will know how fake you are… Except you are not.
It’s fine being independent and all, but sometimes you don’t need to be afraid of asking questions and especially request advice if you don’t know how to tackle a situation. You don’t need to refuse assistance to prove your worth.
Think about this:
- Do you think you need to accomplish everything on your own?
- “I don’t need anyone’s help!”… Are you sure?
- Do you perceive requests as obligatory requirements for work and not something you need?
Remember, it is ok to ask for help if you don’t feel like you advance or struggle with something. Everyone likes to give an opinion and a helping hand. The more points of view you have on a project, the more enriched it becomes, and the more you learn.
You measure your worth on the “what” and “how much” you can do. But you strongly believe that you are never good enough no matter what you do, and you fear being seen as inexperienced and unknowledgeable.
- Do you shy away from job offers unless you are sure to meet every single requirement?
- Do you keep on seeking certifications or training because you feel you need to boost your skills to succeed?
- Even if you have been doing well in your position, do you still think you don’t know “enough”?
- Do you get goosebumps or shudder when someone calls you an expert?
Yap, that’s me: the expert
Welcome to my tribe! It is indeed great to learn new things and boost up your skills by doing so. They will undoubtedly give you an advantage among other employees when applying for a job and even on your daily work.
However, if you are like me, the more you try and see yourself not performing or knowing enough, the more demotivated you feel, and the more you procrastinate.
What happens with me is that, despite being overly enthusiastic about new experiences, wanting to help everyone with things or do multiple tasks simultaneously, self-doubt starts to creep in. I think to myself:
- Is my extra help going to help?
- Am I too intrusive or imposing?
- Is it worth doing the work I’m doing? What is its purpose?
When people say: “Wow, you draw super well! How do you do it?”
I feel that I don’t have the necessary knowledge to achieve what I have imagined and don’t deserve the praise. This hits harder when I’m drawing, and it isn’t turning up as I wanted, so I give up and keep doing that.
A bit of general advice to overcome your sense of Imposterism would be to acquire skills when you need it and think of mentoring others or teaching what you know. Teaching others can help others learn what you’ve learned and praise your knowledge.
A piece of advice for my fellow experts
My pieces of advice for you would be:
- Keep track of the things you have been doing, look back at it, and see the progress.
- Always finish what you start: a wise old man said to me that once you start a draw, you should keep going, even if the thing is not turning out into what you thought.
- Embrace your flaws.
- Learn from others, and analyze others: if others work better, see it as a constructive thing instead of having a jealous attitude. Try to ask: “Wow, how is it better than mine? What works in his art, and how can I apply it to mine?
- Take things one step at a time, no rushing — patience is the key.
I also noticed an interesting phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where people who have little knowledge about something are convinced they know more than others, so you see nowadays calling themselves experts… but are they? We’ve written about everyone claiming to be an Expert and our opinion about it. These extra bits of advice might also help in your Expert Impostor side.
In short, remember that about 70% of the total population has the Impostor Syndrome, and you are not alone in this. It is vital to rejoice even the tiniest insignificant thing from your life and take things one step at a time. Analyze what you can learn from others and also teach others what you know. Slowly the confidence will come back.
You can check my references for building this blog post and gather more information about the subject here: