I’m helping a client who’s won several high-profile awards in a decades-long career write his memoir. I’ve noticed he repeatedly chalks up his success to “happy accidents” and speaks of his colleagues reverently as if his achievements pale in comparison.
Due largely to the pandemic, his work has recently slowed. When I suggested he consider teaching an online course or becoming a keynote speaker, he laughed. Who wants to hear what he has to say when he can’t even get a job?
This is a perfect example of imposter syndrome, where accomplished people feel like a fraud, perpetually afraid of being “found out.”
And the real crime is the thief that’s robbing their confidence and replacing it with depression and anxiety is their own thoughts.
Make It ’Til You Fake It
If you feel like you’re not enough, you’re not alone. Research shows up to 82% have experienced “perceived fraudulence” at some point.
The irony of imposter syndrome is it affects high-performing people disproportionately. As executive coach Robin Buckley, Ph.D. points out:
In large part, you experience imposter syndrome because of who you are. Individuals like you who are used to setting goals, working diligently towards those goals, learning and growing to challenge themselves, and expecting eventual success are the ones prone to imposter syndrome.
Perfectionists, in particular, are vulnerable to our “compare and despair” culture, which makes it easy to perceive others as more deserving. Negative thoughts about your capabilities fed by insecurity, worry, and self-doubt and unsupported by facts bubble up.
Before you know it, you feel like everything you do is under a microscope, so you stop taking risks and downplay your talents. In other words, you invalidate all the assets that help you grow and succeed.
Keep It Real
Generally speaking, you know it’s imposter syndrome if how you see yourself is not how others see you. A caveat: systemic workplace bias (gender, racial, etc.) can be chalked up to imposter syndrome, so be sure to consider that as you examine your feelings of inadequacy and exclusion.
To recover from imposter syndrome, start by considering this truth:
Imposters rarely experience imposter syndrome.
Take time to reflect on your accomplishments and the positive feedback you get from others. Think about situations when you’ve done well and the strategies you used to ace goals. And consider what success looks like to you.
Write it all down so you have an authentic point of reference when you feel like a phony.
As Seth Godin once pointed out, we’re all imposters. Any work worth doing involves risk, failure, and feelings of inadequacy at some point. So, be realistic — just do your best and leave the rest.