I have a secret. I never feel like I know what I’m doing. Ever. Prior to hearing the term “impostor syndrome,” I assumed that I was a defective individual; someone who just didn’t know anything. I always felt like everyone but me had it figured out. What was “it” exactly? I’m not sure. But they had it, and I didn’t. Despite the fact that I graduated from high school and college with honors, landed good internships during law school, and have worked at world class companies, I always feel like any minute someone will expose me for the fake I am.
Impostor syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who have an inability to internalize their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s incredibly common, and even the most successful among us have admitted to feeling like phonies (hello, Maya Angelou). While anyone can have impostor syndrome, women in particular are more likely to feel its effects. Studies have shown that women tend to attribute their success to luck or some other outward cause, while men attribute their success to their own inherent ability. As a result, women are more hesitant to take credit for their hard work and are more risk averse, leading many to believe they just aren’t “leadership material.”
If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that at one point in time, everyone feels like they’re out of their league. But the trick is to keep on going because more often than not, you know far more than you think you do. Here are a few other things you can do to help alleviate the anxiety of impostor syndrome:
Focus on what you do well. Every last one of us has strengths and weaknesses that we bring to the table. While we tend to focus on our failures, the reality is that if we stopped to think about what we’re doing right, the list is probably pretty long. Remembering where you excel, and having a realistic assessment of where you can improve, can help keep some of your insecurities at bay.
Remember you are not alone. There is safety in numbers, and if you live with impostor syndrome, know that you are in good company. Nobody in the world is perfect. Everyone – and I do mean everyone – makes mistakes, has knowledge gaps, and struggles with self-doubt. Be kind to yourself by not focusing on perfection, but instead on celebrating your successes.
Talk to someone you trust. Never underestimate the power of talking it out. Reach out to a trusted colleague, mentor, sponsor, or friend to talk about your feelings. More often than not, you will be met with an empathetic ear. Having the opportunity to vent and to externalize your feelings will help alleviate your fears.
Do you suffer from impostor syndrome? If so, how do you cope with your feelings?