You study and do assignments through university and hope that no one will realise that you have no idea what’s going on.
You get good grades and achieve wonderful things and people congratulate you. Instead of being happy, you chalk up these achievements to luck and that it isn’t THAT big of a deal.
Does this sound familiar? If it does then welcome to imposter syndrome.
For the longest time, I’d felt this way and I thought it was just me, until I came across the term ‘impostor syndrome’ and suddenly everything clicked.
A quick Google search can easily reveal a million studies on the topic and its prevalence in the general population. Wikipedia defines imposter syndrome as a phenomenon in which “individuals [who have] an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.” It also leads to people feeling like don’t deserve the success they’ve achieved.
Many successful people have reported feelings of intense inadequacy despite evidence of their competence. Take Maya Angelou, the accomplished American poet and writer (check her out seriously) shared her experiences and said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” This is a woman that’s been presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize AND Tony Award, and been awarded countless other honours. Yet, despite her achievements and proof of excellence, even she doesn’t feel like she is deserving of these honours. It’s not just Angelou, other celebrities have also spoken about experiencing these feelings, they include Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, and Emma Watson.
It’s surreal to think that I have something in common with these celebrities (aside from the good looks of course). I look up to these people and see their achievements and it’s mind-blowing to me that they feel like they don’t deserve it. Yet, it’s also helped me to humanise them as I realise that even they have their own self-doubts which are similar to my own. This is important in overcoming imposter syndrome since it’s highly likely the person standing next to you is experiencing the same thing and the only thing you’re competing against is something as abstract as your inner self-doubt.
Even though imposter syndrome has been written about extensively, many of my friends don’t know what it is and given its prevalence they’re also probably afraid to discuss it. It’s a hard to issue to overcome since readily accepting your achievements after years of underestimating them is something that can’t be done overnight, but hey we’ve all got to start somewhere.
Since I’ve become familiar with imposter syndrome and my experiences with it, there are some tricks and tips I’ve used to help myself slowly overcome it. I’m not saying that anyone can be 100% ‘cured’, but I think that it’s good start to put our worries and fears into perspective.
Accepting your role in your achievements
A part of imposter syndrome is that a person is unable to internalise their successes and achievements because they were given an opportunity that others weren’t, and so all achievements stemming from that success is not truly deserved. However, remember that opportunities come to those who expose themselves to it, and opportunities wouldn’t be offered to you if the person offering didn’t believe that you would do a good job.
Try not to compare yourself to other people
Imposter syndrome is made worse when we compare ourselves to other people who see as ‘having it together’ with their own set of achievements, which we feel are superior to ours. This should stop. People do different things, and comparing Natalie Portman’s achievements to Maya Angelou’s would mean we’re comparing apples to oranges. In a world of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat where everyone filters out only the very best moments of their lives, it’s easy to look at our own lives and think ‘oh my life is so boring right now’. It’s important to remember that these posts and photos are nothing but a scene, and not the whole movie. Start learning to respect and appreciate your own experiences because everyone’s journey is different.
Start compiling a list of the nice things people say about you
This list has helped me in so many ways. When I’m down I always go back to this list to remind myself that people don’t think of me as a fraud and that there are people who appreciate me and my company. I remember earlier this year my friend Maggie was writing a nomination for me and had this to say about me,
“Many will undoubtedly be able to relate and aspire to her personable and sincere character. To whomever should process this nomination, it is highly likely that you have already met Levina and that she has won you over.”
I remember when she showed me and I was totally blown away. For Maggie (whom I love to bits and pieces) to sing such praises about me, it made me realise that there were people in this world who didn’t at all think I was a fake or a fraud, and instead appreciated me.