Although it was first mentioned in the media in 1982, would you believe the term Imposter Syndrome, or to give it its correct title, Imposter Phenomenon, was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary for the first time in June 2018? Defined as ‘the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills’, Imposter Syndrome to put it very simply is that frequent feeling of being a failure or ‘not good enough’ despite a sustained record of success.
Sound familiar? Well according to research by Imposter Syndrome expert Kate Atkin, 70% of people will at some stage in their lives experience ‘imposter’ feelings. It even affects the rich, famous and super successful, with prominent figures including Jacinda Arden, Tom Hanks, Michelle Obama, and David Tennant all admitting that they have struggled to ditch the self-doubt. For some, these feelings may be short term, but for many others, they can be lifelong.
I can say with some certainty that I fall into the ‘lifelong’ category. Leaving school after A levels, and managing to get a City job in what then was a very blue-chip, very conservative Merchant Bank, meant that for years I felt ‘out of place’, and ‘not one of them’. I worried that at any moment, people would find out that I didn’t have a degree or any additional qualifications, and that I would be sent packing as a result.
I decided to work extremely hard, constantly proving myself and justifying why I should have my job. Even when things were going well, or I was given more responsibility, I was always looking over my shoulder to see if I had been ‘found out’. I worried that someone would say my successes weren’t down to me or that I would be accused of not being intellectually rigorous. That constant feeling of inadequacy stayed with me throughout my working life, which spanning 50 years was an awfully long time to be carrying that burden!
But the good thing was that I did succeed. Despite my feelings of self-doubt and lack of confidence in my abilities I did have an amazing career, and I was able to take on some incredible roles and responsibilities and deliver in all of them.
While me and my imposter syndrome have now moved on, for so many people, the struggle is still ongoing.
So, what can we do? Well, based upon years of research, Dr. Valerie Young, another expert on Imposter Syndrome, categorised the phenomenon into five main subgroups. Most of us can identify with at least one of these groups, and one of the keys to tackling Imposter Syndrome lies in identifying your type and finding the way to address your doubts. Here is a quick run-down of the five types, and how you can recognise and address each one:
· The type: The Perfectionist.
How it feels: Does one tiny mistake in an otherwise amazing performance make you feel like a failure? Are you guilty of micromanaging and struggling to delegate? Do you want to achieve 100% every single time? If this all sounds familiar then you may well be a perfectionist, meaning you set exceptionally (and perhaps excessively) high goals for yourself, then fall into self-doubt if you cannot not achieve them. Even when you are successful, you might find yourself asking how you could have done it better.
What you can do: Try to focus on celebrating and recognising your wins and achievements. Also learn to accept that mistakes are part of your learning journey. You’re human so expecting to be 100% flawless all the time is setting yourself up for failure.
The type: The Super person.
How it feels: Does downtime leave you stressed because you feel like you should be working? Are you always the last one in the office, even when you’ve finished all the work you need to get through? Have you let your hobbies and passion slide because you’re spending all your time focusing on work?
What you can do: Super people can become addicted to the validation and praise from work, so try to encourage yourself to find other internal sources of validation. No one should have more power to make you feel good (or bad) about yourself that you!
The type: The Natural Genius.
How it feels: Achieved straight A's throughout your life? Always labelled as ‘the smart one’? Used to excelling without the effort? Hello Natural Genius. Just like the perfectionist you can set your standards extremely high and try to avoid anything that takes you out of your comfort zone? Why? Because not excelling at something can send your confidence down a rabbit hole.
What you can do: Instead of thinking you always have to shine, try to remember that we’re all still changing and growing. Success tends to mean long term learning, change and growth, so instead of stepping away from any areas where you don’t feel like a pro, try and find areas where you can improve
· The type: The Soloist.
How it feels: Is ‘I don’t need help’ high on your most uttered phrases list? Feel like you have to do everything on your own? Then you could be a soloist.
What you can do: Take a deep breath, and remember that asking for help doesn’t mean that others will think you’re an imposter. Being independent is great, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of refusing the support and help that you need.
· The type: The Expert.
How it feels: Even after years in your field, do you feel like you don’t know enough? Does being labelled as an expert in your area stress you out? Do you always feel like you need to do one more course, one more qualification, and gain that one more bit of experience? Wanting to know more isn’t a bad thing – we can all learn more! That being said, if you are constantly focusing on learning more, can hold you back.
What you can do: Just like the soloist, learn that there is nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t know something, and asking for help from a more knowledgeable, or senior colleague.
Even though it is something that we seem to have only recently officially defined, Imposter Syndrome is certainly something that a lot of us are continuing to struggle with. Being able to talk freely and being honest about your feelings, having a mentor to support you, or seeking help from a mental health professional can all be powerful antidotes to address self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.
And if you are still feeling the doubt, there’s a great saying ‘Fake it until you make it’ – I certainly did, and believe me, it’s that easy!
PLEASE SIGN IN TO READ THIS ARTICLE