Stefani Wilkens
Stefani Wilkens | Graphic Designer


Imposter Syndrome


Trends are constantly popping up in my life. There was the summer of on fleek eyebrows, the semester I went gluten-free, and that one time I attempted to replace the word “very” with “v”…that one totes didn’t work out. Recently, there’s been a trending phrase that’s actually piqued my interest and caused me to think twice about its place in society. It’s the fact that nearly every time I scroll through social media, I come across an article on Imposter Syndrome.

Evidently, there are scores of us out there feeling like frauds. In fact, the sheer amount of information available on Imposter Syndrome should prove that we’re not alone in feeling like we have no clue what we’re doing. I’d go as far as to say that if you’ve never felt that creeping self-doubt you’re either crazy, lazy, or a complete narcissist. I mean really, if FastCompany, Elite Daily, Mashable, and Forbes agree on something, it has to be legit, right?

So, in case you’re one of the lazy/crazy/narcissists, Wikipedia as defines Imposter Syndrome, “a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’” (Can we all take a moment and collectively thank the academic gods that I’ve graduated college and no longer have to scour the internet for more legitimate sources that provide equally valid information?) In normal people speak, it’s the concept of feeling like you’re constantly “winging it,” when you’re actually not. 

This disease (the American Psychological Association has articles on this syndrome too…which to me makes it an official illness) has easily recognized symptoms and can most often be self-diagnosed. Symptoms include:

  • Feeling like you have no idea why you’re being trusted with whatever task you’ve been assigned
  • Feeling like someone who’s actually qualified is about to point out the fact that you have no idea what you’re doing
  • Feeling like you’re making things up as you go along or faking it until you make it
  • Feeling like you’re not good enough to do what you want to do/have been asked to do/are in the middle of doing

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for imposter syndrome. It’s inevitable that you will encounter moments of self-doubt from time to time. Thankfully, there are certain things you can do to treat the symptoms and coax the syndrome into remission.  But before we get into that, let me give you a dose of perspective. Experiencing Imposter Syndrome can actually be a good thing if you look at it the right way. Here’s the bright side:

You’re likely high achieving and willing to work hard. \\\ Low achievers and lazy people simply never set the bar high enough to feel like a fraud. Whether out of fear or lethargy, these people never try hard enough to feel discouraged. So, your symptoms are actually telling you that you hold yourself to a high standard and are willing to focus your efforts – both of these are very good things.

You’re aware that there is always someone “better” than you. \\\ Now, that may seem discouraging at first, but if you look at it the right way it means you’re open to seeking out and learning from those with more or different experiences than you have. You’re humble, and that’s much better than being a braggart. 

You have an innate desire to learn and to question the world around you. \\\ Spinning off of the point above, your doubt is the best defense against overconfidence. Your obvious lack of delusions of grandeur keeps you grounded and questioning whether the way you’re working is really the best way. In case you didn’t know, that’s the mindset you really need if you want to change the world.

Okay, feeling better about contracting Imposter Syndrome? Good. Now I’ll get into what you’re really here for ­– how do you manage the symptoms? As you’ll remember, I told you there was no magical cure. But there are a few things you can do when you start to feel your insecurities lurking in the shadows:

Tell someone you trust about how you feel. \\\ If you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, choose a friend or colleague and say so. They’ll likely be able to give you the pep talk you need. If not, then they’ll be able to help you figure out why you’re feeling the way you are and who to go to for help or a confidence boost.

Remind yourself of your accomplishments. \\\ It’s amazing how often we can forget just how qualified we are. When you begin to feel overwhelmed take a deep breath and go through your qualifications and “wins.” Don’t think you have any? Pull up your LinkedIn and read your own profile. If you often feel like a phony, it can help to incorporate visual reminders into your daily routine Frame that diploma and hang it on your wall.  Keep the sweet letter from your best friend next to your desk. Start a compliments jar where you write down something nice someone said about you daily – then pull these reminders out when they’re needed. (Spoiler, I do/have done all of these things.)

Remove the comparisons. \\\ I used to struggle with this one a lot, particularly when I was in school. Most of us high-achievers have a very competitive nature, which we often turn against ourselves. Instead of feeling like a failure when faced with someone else’s success, recognize that you’re two different people with two different lives/experiences/backgrounds – they may be better than you in this case, but you’re likely stronger than they are in different circumstances. Instead of allowing comparisons to shut you down, let them wake you up. Use the moment as an opportunity to learn a little bit more about that person and their thought processes. It could be the opportunity to make a friend, find a mentor, or just engage in stimulating conversation.

Reframe the situation. \\\ If all of the above fails, step back and figure out what you can learn from the situation. Ask the following questions: What am I feeling? Why do I feel this way? Who can I ask for guidance? I guarantee you that whatever you’re feeling/done has been felt/done by someone else before you. Figure out who they are and leverage their expertise to build your list of accomplishments and qualifications from suggestion number two.

It takes a certain level of self-awareness to recognize and deal with imposter syndrome.  You’re not always going to get it right, and that’s okay. To all you perfectionists out there – remember that THERE IS NOT A CURE and this too shall pass.

Do you have any techniques for dealing with those times when you feel like an imposter? Do you agree/disagree with anything I’ve said here? Leave me a comment and start the conversation!

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