Have you ever felt like your accomplishments are only the result of being in the right place at the right time? Even faced with evidence that you’re skilled and qualified, you feel like your achievements came from a lucky break. You’re experiencing a psychological phenomenon called impostor syndrome, and you aren’t alone.
A widespread syndrome
Studies have found that a staggering 70 percent of people experience impostor syndrome at least once in their lives. The experience isn’t gendered, it’s not a mental disorder, and it can affect anyone. Impostor syndrome doesn’t discriminate. Maya Angelou, multiple award-winner and holder of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is just one impressively accomplished person who can attest to this.
Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks and actresses America Ferrera, Jodie Foster, and Emma Watson; writers like Neil Gaiman, John Steinbeck, and John Greene; US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; and screenwriter Chuck Lorre have all reported experiencing impostor syndrome at some point during their careers.
Impostor syndrome cheats you of your success
Impostor syndrome is occuring when, despite contrary proof, you feel like a fraud. You’re convinced that you are not responsible for your own success. You tell yourself the reason you received a promotion or were given an opportunity can be attributed to luck or timing, not your own talent and aptitude.
The further I advanced in my career, the more prevalent impostor syndrome became in my life. I couldn’t believe that anyone would actually read the words I wrote. The more I published articles, the more paranoid I was that the research I was doing would be exposed as false. My work wasn’t flawed, but I couldn’t silence the ugly voice inside my head that kept whispering you don’t deserve this.
One day, I forgot how to spell ‘quiet’ and I felt a panic attack slowly mounting. Sweating and shaking, I phoned my best friend and told her everything. I’m a fraud, I don’t know what I’m doing, I just had to google how to spell ‘quiet’. She introduced me to impostor syndrome; I finally had a diagnosis for the self-doubt that plagued me throughout my writing career.
Once my demon had a name, I was able to start transforming the way I dealt with it. It’s an uphill battle; every time it whispers you’re a fraud I have to consciously remind myself that I am a qualified and talented professional. I make lists of my accomplishments. I write down the tasks I finish every day to reinforce that I am doing something real.
I am now actively refusing to let impostor syndrome rob me of my successes.
“I finally got my answer to that question: Who do you think you are?
I am whoever I say I am.”
– America Ferrera on impostor syndrome, The New York Times (2016).
The diagnosis isn’t necessarily 100% negative, though. Some research suggests that impostor syndrome correlates with success. People with impostor syndrome tend to have personality traits that lead them to overwork themselves or hold their own work to impossibly high standards: workaholics and perfectionists. While the syndrome is internally damaging to an individual, externally they often appear and act as model employees. This often results in impostor syndrome going unaddressed unless the individual voices their concerns.
Transform your inner critic from negative to constructive by reminding yourself that you do deserve credit for your accomplishments. Impostor syndrome doesn’t have to rule your professional successes. Discuss the feelings of inadequacy with your peers, and you’ll be surprised at how many others in your profession also experience self-doubt. Make lists of your accomplishments and triumphs so you have tactile evidence that you are not a fraud.
When the biggest thing holding you back from enjoying your successes is yourself, it’s time to stop being your own worst enemy.