How To Conquer Imposter Syndrome
Simon Akers writes about this talking point issue, the pain it can cause, but also why it's an area of common ground we should all be able to understand.
Have you ever had it where you are in a group of people at the pub, thinking you have to try and fit in when you don’t feel like you do? Or you are in a meeting room and feel like the words you are saying aren’t right? Or on a date and, despite being honest about yourself, you fear that the person across the table is calling bullshit on your words? Yes, that’s Imposter Syndrome alright.
Defined by The Oxford Dictionary 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,’ the phrase Imposter Syndrome has been popularised in recent times, and awareness, like most mental health conversations, has increased for the better. Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Michelle Obama and even Neil Armstrong have admitted to feeling it. According to various academic studies, 70% of people have experienced it. From conversations I have had, I am pretty sure it is safe to say we’ve all felt it one time or another.
Personally, I can vouch for the fact that it manifests as a result of a (even temporary) loss of self confidence. Even when your experience and qualifications are more than adequate. I recognise it in the gap between lower self-esteem and a higher expectation of reality. At those times it really feels like we are a house of cards, held up with nice job titles, fake mates and wafer-thin veneers of accomplishment. Societal pressures of what the world expects of me as a man no doubt does me a disservice.
I do however write the following truths with absolute confidence (and not as an imposter) as I have predominantly learnt to counter it with these ideas. Bear in mind it does not guarantee immunity; I still have my imposter days. These are just ways to mitigate their impact:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Know this. You are really not. Imposter Syndrome is a normal feeling, and to be clear it comes regardless of any mental health challenges and anxiety. I think people are less likely to admit it because they think other people will think they’re crap. Nonsense. If 7/10 people have reportedly experienced it, then there is reassurance in that. It’s much like depression and anxiety – when I first opened up about my challenges it was incredible how many others also went through them. Know damn well it is prevalent.
YOU ARE BETTER THAN YOU THINK
We are our own worst critic. Introspection is one thing, the extreme ability to ignore the positive and amplify the negatives is absolutely another. That is a fast-track to Imposterville. For example: you have a last minute work presentation to prep for, and you tell yourself it’s going to be terrible as you know you don’t know all the content, and didn’t put your perfect YOU into it. However, it still goes well even when you didn’t think it would. People commend your work afterwards, and the client is happy. Yet you still don’t believe them.
Stop it, you showed your quality, and you nailed it!
IN FACT YOU ARE MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH, YOU ARE GREAT.
Further to the above point, know that you have incredible skills and experience, or you would not be doing what you are doing right now. Drops in confidence rarely correlate with the often positive trajectory your life is taking. Everyone else knows how great you are. Time for you to know it too.
YOU FOCUS ON YOU, NOT OTHERS
Last but by no means least, do NOT compare yourself to others. Of course, aim to be your best self, but accept in true Stoic fashion that some things are out of your control, and you can only do the best work possible. Possible is the word. Don’t be unrealistic with yourself. Not everything goes to plan, but do not conflate disappointment of not reaching your own lofty expectation, with the self-doubt and negative feelings that ensue. Do the best you can but let go of perfection. Also, know that next time you watch someone talking in front of friends in the pub, or a colleague in the office and they are doing it so well and you are thinking ‘Wow I wish I could come across like that’, just know that they are 70% likely to be feeling like you too, and with that in mind, be sure to keep up their spirits!
I often think of these points as I tube around London. A city of 8 million veneers and masks. The question is, if you strip down the bullshit, the nice outfits, the ‘got-their-shit-together’ appearances that so many seem to have, then what are you left with? Humans. Human beings with worries, fears and who often feel like they are going to be ‘found out’. It is all in their head though. They won’t get found out, as there is nothing to find out. And neither will you.
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