There are times in life where no matter what happens, you feel like a fraud. Where your inner critic says you aren’t worthy or capable of doing a certain task, even if you’re good at it. I asked a few friends to share some experiences of theirs where their inner imposter spoke over their own skills:
“Sometimes when I’m part of a discussion on politics I just say something and shy away”.
“How can I ask for more pay? I’m nowhere near as good as …”.
“I can’t hold a presentation at [some event]. I’m no expert on this topic”.
“I love pair-programming, but hate when I’m typing. What if they realise I need to google simple things? Would they think less of me?”.
“I can’t write blog posts. People will laugh at my lack of knowledge”.
You’ve probably experienced some thoughts along those lines. You doubt yourself with every brain-cell and are afraid someone will call you out for being a fraud. I know I have. You see, those experiences arent from friends of mine. They’re actually my own.
Yet I know I can do all of them, I get feedback from my friends, peers even strangers confirming the value of what I do. Why is it then so hard to recognize my accomplishments?
Until recently I didn’t know this feeling of inadequacy had a well-defined term psychologists have studied for years: Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome: “Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
Fraud: A deception deliberately practiced in order to secure unfair or unlawful gain.
Meaning a smart person, with a proven track record of a skill fails to realise this. Leading to extreme insecurity about said skill. Afraid peers will look straight through them.
Yep, that’s what I was feeling.
Dunning-Krueger Effect: “…in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.”
“…high-ability people may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others…”
Another term which kept popping up after finding the term Imposter Syndrome was the Dunning-Kreuger effect. The graph is quite illustrative about how our own misperceptions of ourselves may vary based on how little or how much we actually know.
Imposter Syndrome seems to hit the hardest when your skill level is relatively high, and are on your way to becoming an expert.
Being held back
The result of having Imposter Syndrome can be devastating though. Instead of having a growth mindset, there’s a strong tendency to shy away from new opportunities or experiences.
It can also affect people around you with your behaviour by overcompensating, procrastinating, charming others and getting on their good side (in a bad way), active self-sabotage, burnout, depression and many other consequences.
What to do?
Now Imposter Syndrome is established as a real issue to do something about. But where to start? How can you go about changing behaviour which has been with you for so many years?
Admitting it! Then start looking for help.
While I looked for help, I found this wonderful talk by Gitte Klitgaard. I recommend it wholeheartedly. She shares from her own personal experiences, and from those she has met in her profession as an agile coach.
Some interesting points from her talk:
“You need to recognize your accomplishments. Write them down. Every evening”
“When you feel you are an imposter, you are pushing your boundaries”
“By having Imposter Syndrome, you are by definition smart. But if you acknowledge you are smart, then you don’t have Imposter Syndrome”[paraphrased]
There were many other points I should bring up, but I forgot to write them all down. Please find the time to watch the video.
I’m also looking forward to Denise Jacobs’ upcoming book; “Banish Your Inner Critic – Identify and Eliminate Mental Blocks to Unleash Creativity“. This seems like a perfect book for anyone struggling with their own inner imposter, telling them their not good enough.
Wrapping it up
I hope you’ve learned Imposter Syndrome is real. It’s effects are negative to yourself and to those around you. It’s also something you can take steps to improve.
At the end of the day, we worry so much about external expectations and validation. The truth is, though, people don’t have time to worry about your stuff. They have their own stuff to worry about.
Everyone struggles of something. Accept this, then punch fear in the face.
As for the examples I brought up in the beginning of this post; I’ve overcome them all, yet still struggle with my inner critic. At least now I know I can embrace my inner imposter.
What are your experiences with Imposter Syndrome? Have you overcome it? Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any thoughts, questions or criticisms. Or leave a comment below.