Impostor syndrome is fairly common, especially among high achievers. However, it can still hold you back professionally, if you don’t learn to overcome it.
What is impostor syndrome? Also called impostor phenomenon, the term describes the experience of feeling like a fraud and unworthy of your successes, even when the evidence shows that you’re not. If you frequently worry about being “found out” as undeserving by your colleagues, you’re probably a sufferer.
When these feelings begin to impact the way you live and work, real problems can arise professionally. Impostor syndrome can make it difficult to enjoy your success, or limit your willingness to try new things. It can even stop you from accepting promotions and advancing professionally.
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Do you think you might be struggling with impostor syndrome? Luckily, there are some key ways to beat it.
1. Be sure that impostor syndrome is the Real Problem
It’s estimated that as much as 70 percent of the population experiences impostor syndrome at some point during their lives. At that rate, it’s almost something of a rite of passage. A lot of talented professionals experience it. It’s something that can be processed and worked through independently, and without too many negative consequences, in most cases.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are other things that can make you feel like you’re not good enough. It’s a feeling that often accompanies depression, for example. It can also result from unprocessed messaging from childhood. In either case, another more serious condition could be causing your difficulties. You could also struggle with impostor syndrome alongside another problem. So, be sure to get this all untangled, and seek the help that you need.
Impostor syndrome is uncomfortable but it isn’t debilitating. There could be more going on if you feel truly stuck.
2. Recognize the origin of your self-doubt
Sometimes, people have good reason to doubt themselves. But, when we’re talking about impostor syndrome, we are in a different kind of territory. In these cases, it’s essential to recognize the actual origin of your self-doubt.
It might feel like you can’t handle your job, or that you aren’t as well-equipped to take on a certain task as others seem to think you are. But, the real root of your self-doubt may be perfectionism. Part of the reason that impostor syndrome springs up among high achievers is that these people are often too hard on themselves. They have high standards and expect a lot of themselves.
So, if you’re starting to feel like a fraud, ask yourself if maybe you’re just being a little too hard on yourself. Maybe a perfectionism is the real cause of the self-doubt, not inadequacy.
3. Reflect on your accomplishments
High achievers are often really good at taking themselves to task when something goes wrong. They are less adept at reflecting on past successes. But that’s really important to do, and it could help ease the feelings associated with impostor syndrome.
Think about everything that you’ve accomplished that helped you to get where you are today. Pull out your resume and take a quick peek at it as if you’re an outsider. How does it look to you? Does it seem like you might deserve your current job when you think about your work more objectively?
Reflecting on your past accomplishments should help you recognize that the feeling of fraudulence is just in your head. Do this often and before you know it, those feelings of doubt will arise less and less frequently.
4. Realize that you’re in good company
Many accomplished professionals have experienced these feelings. John Steinbeck wrote about feeling like a fraud in his journal, saying he felt as though he had just been pretending to be a writer. Also, both Meryl Streep and Jodi Foster have expressed feelings of inadequacy in interviews.
According to Forbes, Maya Angelou once said: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'”
Take comfort in knowing that a lot of talented people have felt the way you do. But, that doesn’t mean you have to live with this forever.
5. Break the habit and let go
So much of what we do, and what we think, is due to force of habit. If you struggle with impostor syndrome, you’ve probably carved some pretty deep mental grooves. Creating new ones will take time.
When you notice yourself putting yourself down or feeling inadequate, go back to listing your accomplishments. Remind yourself that this is common for high achievers and that many others have also felt this way. In short, stop yourself. Over time, new mental habits can develop — ones that are more supportive of your happiness and your professional progress.
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