Written by: Victoria Hartman
We’ve all been there: you achieve success or earn an amazing opportunity and immediately experience an overwhelming feeling of doubt in yourself. You’re filled with fear that it’s only a matter of time before you’re exposed as a fraud, and everyone realizes you’ve been pulling a fast one over them the whole time.
This feeling isn’t all in your head. It’s a real thing, and when I learned about its existence, my life changed. Perhaps yours will too.
I don’t remember which psychology class I was in when I first heard the words “Impostor Syndrome,” but I do remember the immediate sense of validation I felt when I discovered that I wasn’t crazy or alone in feeling this way. Since that moment, I have become an expert on noticing when my own Impostor Syndrome rears its ugly head.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor Syndrome is a psychological pattern that causes people to doubt their successes, perceive themselves as terrible at things they’re great at, and experience unsettling fears of being exposed as, you guessed it, an impostor.
It makes you feel like you’ve built a delicate facade, that all of your fake success is masking someone who actually has no idea what they’re doing. It can make you feel like your achievements are a house made of straw, and the slightest wind of adversity will knock it all down. It makes you feel like you’re lying to the people who are proud of you. It makes you feel underqualified.
Here’s what I’ve learned about Impostor Syndrome: all of the beliefs that it manifests are completely false.
The college experience is filled with both failure and success, big and small. The successes that students experience can easily be overshadowed by Impostor Syndrome.
This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to allow yourself to feel a sense of personal achievement. It can also cause your confidence and self-esteem to plummet. A lack of confidence can be debilitating to a student, particularly when it’s regarding something they’ve spent so much time and effort trying to perfect.
10 Steps to Overcome Impostor Syndrome
Thankfully, there are ways to overcome Impostor Syndrome. Dr. Valerie Young, an expert on Impostor Syndrome, has created a list of 10 steps* you can use to combat feelings of inadequacy and fraudulence. The full explanation of these steps can be found on her website.
- Break the silence. Share how you’re feeling.
- Separate feelings from fact. Just because you feel a certain way doesn’t mean it’s true.
- Recognize when you should feel fraudulent. It’s normal to self-doubt in situations where you’re the outsider or the new employee.
- Accentuate the positive. Perfectionism can indicate a healthy drive to excel, but don’t take it to an extreme.
Forgive yourself when mistakes happen.
- Develop a new response to failure and mistake making. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
- Right the rules. You have just as much right as everyone else to make a mistake or ask questions.
- Develop a new script. Your script is that automatic mental tape that starts playing in situations that
trigger your impostor feelings. When you start a new job or project, think something
positive like, “I may not know all of the answers, but I am smart enough to figure
- Visualize success. Picture yourself successfully making a presentation or asking a question. It’s much
better than the alternative of picturing disaster.
- Reward yourself. Learn to celebrate your achievements.
- Fake it till you make it. Now and then, we all have to fly by the seat of our pants, and courage comes from taking risks. Don’t wait until you feel confident to put yourself out there, or you may never do so.
Everyone wants to feel validated when they succeed in something they worked hard on. Impostor Syndrome can make this feel impossible. Realize that if you’re struggling with low confidence and feelings of inadequacy regarding something you have achieved, you’re not alone.
If you experience success and feel a twinge of fear that you’re about to be exposed as a fraud, know that there’s a name for this, and it’s not just you being crazy or overthinking. You aren’t alone in those painful and frustrating emotions. Those negative beliefs are the result of Impostor Syndrome, and knowing what that means is the first step to overcoming it.
*Citation: Dr. Valerie Young is an internationally recognized expert on Impostor Syndrome. She has delivered her often humorous and highly practical approach to overcoming impostor feelings at such diverse organizations as Boeing, Facebook, BP, Intel, Chrysler, Apple, Bristol Meyers-Squibb, McDonald’s, Emerson, IBM, Merck, Ernst & Young, Procter & Gamble, Motley Fool, Raymond James, Space Telescope Science Institute, American Women in Radio and Television, Society of Women Engineers, Women in Trucking, Lung Cancer Partnership, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and many more.
Her career-related advice has been cited in popular and business outlets around the world including BBC radio, Yahoo Financial News, CNN Money, Wall Street Journal, USA Weekend, O magazine, Entrepreneur, Science, Elle, Redbook, Woman’s Day, and The Chicago Tribune, The Sydney Morning Herald. And her award-winning book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of It (Crown/Random House), is now available in five languages.
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