Have you ever felt like your clients or colleagues are going to discover you’re a fraud? If so, you’re in good company. These feelings are known as impostor syndrome. According to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, an estimated 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives.
You Are Not Alone
Some of the most successful people today often feel like frauds in light of their own achievements.
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, said when speaking of her time at Harvard:
“Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself – or even excelled – I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.”
In her book, “Lean In”, she said:
“There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, and not sure I should be where I am.”
Howard Schultz of Starbucks once told the New Your Times in an interview that:
“Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”
Actress and comedian Tina Fey also admits to a certain amount of doubt at her good fortunes. In an interview with the Independent, she said:
“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!”
Arianna Huffington, author, syndicated columnist, and businesswoman, has also admitted to feelings of self-doubt. In an interview with FastCompany, she shared what holds her back:
“The greatest obstacle for me has been the voice in my head that I call my obnoxious roommate. I wish someone would invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves. We would realize how important it is to stop this negative self-talk. It means pushing back against our obnoxious roommate with a dose of wisdom.”
Concerning women, in particular, she added:
“What makes our liberation from these voices harder is that so much of the news and information directed at women these days seems determined to reinforce our obnoxious roommates and make us feel that our lives are somehow lacking. We are constantly made to feel that we should be prettier, thinner, sexier, more successful, make more money, be better moms, better wives, better lovers, et cetera,”
In Lady Gaga’s HBO documentary, she is sitting at her dressing room mirror while talking about some of her deepest insecurities and fears. She said:
“I still sometimes feel like a loser kid in high school, I gotta pick myself up and I have to tell myself I’m a superstar every morning so that I can get through this day and be for my fans what they need me to be.”
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the New York Times:
“I have spent my years since Princeton, while at law school and in my various professional jobs, not feeling completely a part of the worlds I inhabit. I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up.”
Tom Hanks, despite having won two Academy Awards and appearing in more than 70 films and TV shows, still finds himself doubting his own abilities, as told in a radio interview with NPR.
“It’s a high-wire act that we all walk. No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?”
In the A&E documentary “The Road I’m On”, Garth Brooks shares that when he left Oklahoma to move to Nashville, he didn’t last 24 hours before he returned home thinking he was not good enough.
5 Types of Impostor Syndrome
Impostor syndrome is the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications. Research has shown that both men and women experience impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome applies to anyone who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes.
In her book, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women”, Valerie Young describes five types of people who experience impostor. Do you recognize yourself in any of them?
Perfectionists set high expectations for themselves. Even if they meet 99% of their goals, they feel like a failure. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence.
How to know you are a Perfectionist:
- Have you ever been accused of being a micromanager?
- Do you have great difficulty delegating?
- Do you feel frustrated and disappointed in your results?
- Do you feel like your work must be 100% perfect, 100% of the time?
Experts feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project. They constantly look for certifications and training to improve their skills. Experts are hesitant to ask a question in any public setting because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.
How to know you are an Expert:
- Do you seek out training or certifications because you think you need to improve your skills to succeed?
- Even if you’ve been doing an excellent job in the eyes of others, do you still feel you don’t know enough?
- Do you feel uncomfortable when someone says you’re an expert?
When the natural genius struggles to accomplish something, they think this means they aren’t good enough. They are used to skills coming easily to them and when they have to put in the effort, their brain tells them that’s proof they’re an impostor.
How to know you are a Natural Genius:
- Do you excel at many things with little effort?
- Did you get “straight A’s” or “gold stars” in school?
- Do you dislike the idea of having a mentor, because you can handle things on your own?
- When faced with a setback, do you lose confidence?
- Do you avoid challenges because it is uncomfortable to try something you’re not good at?
The soloist feels that they have to accomplish tasks on their own. If they need help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
How to know you are a Soloist:
- Do you believe that you need to accomplish things on your own to be a success?
- Does your inner voice say “I don’t need anyone’s help.”?
- Do you frame requests in terms of the requirements of the project, rather than your needs as a person?
Supermen or Superwomen push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life and feel stressed out when they are not accomplishing something.
How to know you are a Superman or Superwoman:
- Do you work more hours than the rest of your team?
- Do you invent things to do, even if you completed everything you set to do that day?
- Do you get stressed when you’re not working?
- Do you see downtime completely wasteful and feel guilty for not working?
- Have you let your hobbies and passions fall by the wayside because work is more important?
- Do you feel like you have not earned your title?
The Impostor Syndrome Cure
If you recognize yourself in any of the descriptions above, here are five ways to consider to take steps to overcome your impostor syndrome:
- Talk to your mentors– A mentor can help you recognize that your impostor feelings are both normal and irrational.
- Recognize your expertise– Working with clients can help you realize just how far you’ve come and how much knowledge you really have to impart.
- Remember what you do well– Most high achievers are pretty smart people. They have areas where they are quite smart and others where they could use a little help. Write down the things you’re good at, and the areas that might need work.
- Realize no one is perfect– Stop focusing on perfection. It is important to take time to appreciate the fruits of your hard work and relax every now and then.
- Change your thinking– Re-frame the way you think about your achievements so you can chip away at the superstitious thinking that fuels the impostor syndrome cycle.
Almost every entrepreneur I have ever spoken to has experienced impostor syndrome in one form or another. It is important to know that you are not alone. Feeling like you are a fraud has propelled you to work harder and achieve many of the good things you have in your life. While impostor syndrome feeds your self-doubt, you can learn to control it.
In closing, one of my Favorite writers and a frequent guest writer here on SteveBizBlog is named Ayodeji Awosika. He did an excellent TEDx speech titled The Future Belongs to the Imposters that is worth watching.
How will you overcome your impostor syndrome?
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