The effects of impostor syndrome can stop people from owning their achievements, but what is the phenomenon and how can it be overcome?
For many, creeping thoughts of being a fraud, that they have only progressed as far as they have in their career by luck or circumstance, and that one day someone will find out that they don’t know what they are doing can be a weight that drags them down.
If this sounds familiar, then you are one of the estimated 82% of people who have experienced the effects of impostor syndrome. But what exactly is impostor syndrome and how can it be dealt with?
What is impostor syndrome?
The term impostor syndrome was first used by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in the late 1970s to describe the experience of fraudulent thoughts within high achieving women. Throughout the course of 150 interviews, the psychologists were shocked to discover how many women reported believing that, regardless of their success, they weren’t good enough or did not deserve their achievements.
Although not formally recognised as a psychological condition, the study was the catalyst for many more like it into the phenomenon, with findings showing that both women and men displayed several of the same thought processes when it came to their professional standing.
While there is no clinical definition for the symptoms, those who have experienced the effects of impostor syndrome will have likely had at least one of the following thoughts:
- They are a fraud, and their skills are overestimated by others.
- They have only progressed in their career out of luck rather than their expertise.
- The fear of being ‘found out’ and exposed as a fraud by their colleagues.
- Setting highly ambitious goals for yourself and feeling incredibly down if they are not achieved.
Although the effects of impostor syndrome can be felt by anyone at any career stage, it is most common among high achievers. Academy Award-nominated actor Dev Patel recently discussed his experiences with impostor syndrome while promoting his new film The Green Knight, in which he plays Gawain, a knight of the round table.
While talking about his character he said: “The idea that Gawain is surrounded at the round table by all these legends and not feeling worthy himself. I very often found myself in that situation where I have this impostor syndrome, just like him.”
Why do people feel like ‘impostors’?
There is no one answer to why some people feel the effects of impostor syndrome or exactly who will experience it.
Most of us will experience feelings of self-doubt in our lifetime, but what differentiates impostor syndrome from these feelings is the frequency in which the thoughts occur.
The reasons and impacts of this are specific to the individual but can also be linked to wider social groups in terms of race, gender and socioeconomic background.
Studies have found that minority groups can be especially susceptible to the effects of impostor syndrome due to the discrimination the groups face and a lack of representation.
How can impostor syndrome be dealt with?
As there is no simple answer to why people experience impostor syndrome, there is also no silver bullet to dealing with the phenomenon.
However, people can try a variety of different steps to find out what works for them in helping to discover more about themselves and work towards realising their own self-worth and talent.
- Talk about it: Have a conversation with someone you trust about the thoughts you are having. Exposing your internalised thoughts by verbalising to someone who knows you can help you examine them critically. Be open to listening to the input from the person you are having the conversation with to understand how they view you and your work.
- Goal management: When starting off on a project, try to take a step back and examine the goals you are setting for yourself. Can you achieve them without risking burnout? Set more realistic goals to help sidestep the disappointment you might feel by not achieving ‘perfection’.
- Critical thinking: This one can be difficult, but just because you are having thoughts about your performance doesn’t mean that they are valid. By constructively criticising your work and appraising it against the realistic goals you have set, you can start to build a more accurate picture of yourself and the value you add.
- Own your successes: An important step to realising your value is taking time to acknowledge your successes and sharing them within your organisation. Keeping a record of achievements in a journal can be a great way to get an accurate view of what you have accomplished.
- Own your failures: Failure is not the enemy! View it as a learning opportunity to help you better understand the areas of your skillset that you want to nurture and build on.
- Pivot your outlook: Rewiring potentially years of thinking is no easy task but taking steps to identify what your priorities are and recognising that the feelings of self-doubt are getting in the way of you achieving them can put you on the path to switching your outlook to one that is more positive and productive.
For more information on ways to boost your personal brand and share your successes, register for the upcoming ICAS Insights webinar ‘Making the most of your social media’ for practical tips and advice.