This article was originally published on The WorkForce Blog.
You don’t deserve your job.
You don’t deserve your title, your career. You don’t deserve your success, everything you’ve worked for over the years, the late nights, the stress. Sorry, but you’re not that good. You’re lucky, the product of good connections and good fortune.
You don’t belong in your role. Sooner or later, the people around you will realize this.
Isn’t that right?
That’s right, you think. At least when you’re alone, during the quiet moments.
I’m a fake, you think. I’m a fraud.
Most competent professionals feel this way.
It’s called Impostor Syndrome, a condition that affects 70% of high performers:
- Kate Winslet, Academy Award winner: “I’d wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.”
- John Steinbeck, Nobel winner: “I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”
- Maya Angelou, Pulitzer winner: “I have written 11 books, but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.’”
Albert Einstein felt this way. So did Natalie Portman and Chris Martin and Meryl Streep. It’s even possible that these successful people continue to doubt themselves—and that they always will.
Because that’s the nature of the condition: the more success you enjoy, the more fraudulent you feel.
Sufferers feel anxious, even depressed, weighed down by perceived inadequacies despite solid performance and outward success. The glow of achievement is dim in their eyes, fleeting. The bite of failure, on the other hand, is sharp and lasting. To compensate, sufferers overwork and people-please and self-sabotage.
“It’s the bane of my existence,” said Tavi Gevinson, a television writer.
Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, two clinical psychologists, coined the term “impostor phenomenon” in 1978, after observing high-performing students who doubted their own achievements, dismissing them as flukes despite evidence to the contrary.
Is this you? If so, it’s not your fault. Consider your:
Worrying has kept our species alive over the millennia.
Species that didn’t worry—about that noise, that painful lump, that lightning in the distance—fell victim to their environment and circumstances. They died away. Our angst, uncomfortable as it is, has kept us intact.
Impostor Syndrome is a survival trait.
Your hometown follows you around the world.
If you grew up, for instance, in a place where owning your accomplishments is a sign of arrogance, then you may always be humble and self-effacing, even when you deserve the recognition.
Impostor syndrome can be a product of your upbringing.
How to overcome feeling like a fraud:
Again, most competent professionals have felt this way.
“Apart from serial narcissists, super low achievers, and outright crazies,” writes Margie Warrell, “no one is immune to the self-doubt that feeds Impostor Syndrome.”
So rather than internalizing the toxicity caused by those feelings (as most people do), learn to recognize them for what they are: symptoms of irrationality. Then lean in. Stop the effects before they hinder your productivity, potential, and happiness.
1. Recognize your effort.
You don’t deserve your job?
Yes, you do: You took the classes; you passed the tests; you graduated; you answered that ad, assembled a resume and wrote a compelling cover letter; you prepared, interviewed and did well; you accepted the challenge and did the work and garnered the results.
You did all that. You enabled your success, so own it.
2. Lead with value.
Doubting yourself can trigger Impostor Syndrome. Self-doubt, of course, happens to the best of us. The fastest way to snap out of it? Help someone. Provide value by taking action.
Action is the loudest voice in the room.
3. Stop comparing yourself to others.
Do you have to be the best to be legitimate? Not at all. Anyone at the top will agree.
The world, it seems, obsesses over the concept of natural talent, the idea that successful people were somehow destined to achieve greatness. We romanticize this notion, this belief that “talented” people are lucky and, therefore, need not work as hard. Come on now …
Competition is everywhere. You’re not the only one that wants what you want.
4. Collect your wins.
Save your praise: File every complimentary email, screen-grab every commendatory tweet, transcribe every flattering comment.
Put it all in a folder on your desktop and refer to it when you need a lift.
But don’t show anyone. This is for you.
5. Free your failures.
Failure may be the most demoralizing consequence there is. And yet, it’s inevitable:
- Bill Gates’ first company deteriorated.
- Oprah was fired from her job as co-anchor.
- Arianna Huffington was rejected by 36 publishers.
- Steven Spielberg’s application to film school was denied, twice.
And who could forget the famous Air Jordan ad, the one Michael closes out by saying, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”
Let it go.
Most importantly …
Remember that you’re not alone.
Many driven professionals struggle with Impostor Syndrome, white-knuckling the sensation. So don’t think of it as a “condition” but, rather, as a happening:
“If I could do it all over again,” said Pauline Clance, “I would call it the impostor experience, because it’s not a syndrome or a complex or a mental illness, it’s something almost everyone experiences.”