You got hired, right? You went through an interview, you shook hands, you signed all the forms, you have a computer and a desk. Your colleagues will say hi to you if you get some coffee. You have a file somewhere with HR. Or maybe you’re self-employed, as an entrepreneur, and you’ve got invoices in your inbox and you’ve filled out your taxes and you’re waiting on an email from a client. You are really, truly, honest-to-God employed.
You’re here because you belong here.
But for some people–a large number of people, in fact, more people than anyone would expect or imagine–that doesn’t feel right. They feel like they’re a fraud, like they’re just faking everything they said they were good at in that interview, like they don’t know what to do and they’re terrible at their job and the bosses are going to find out and fire them at any minute.
Imposter syndrome was first documented in 1978 by two psychologists, Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes. Research done in 2011 suggests that 70 percent of people will experience at least one episode in their lives: at least one episode of feeling intense self-doubt and self-criticism. Think about that–more than two-thirds of the people you know and know about.
Everyone worries and distrusts themselves. Even the star athletes and scientific geniuses and great poets–especially the high achievers. Imposter syndrome actually becomes more prevalent as you get better at what you do: “the more accomplished you get,” writes Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian, “the more likely you are to rub shoulders with even more talented people, leaving you feeling even more inadequate by comparison.” It’s a common saying, but it’s true: when you compare yourself to other people, you’re comparing your blooper reel with their highlight reel–and everyone has a blooper reel, full of flubs and mistakes.
What steps can you take to fight imposter syndrome?
- Acknowledge it. Don’t try to fight it or ignore it or stuff it away into a corner of your mind. Let yourself feel anxious and stressed out–it’s okay. Many psychologists and psychiatrists talk about the concept of mindfulness: of being aware of your feelings (both physical and emotional) from moment to moment, allowing them to happen without judgement or criticism. Recognizing and acknowledging your feelings lets you have better control, better understanding, and better self-awareness over your mental state.
- Address it. Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings, address them. Catastrophizing, or catastrophic thinking, can be a part of imposter syndrome: assuming that you’re one hundred percent worthless and everything is a disaster. So ask yourself: what’s honestly the worst that can happen from this mistake? Are you genuinely falling behind on your work, or just not going as fast as you want to? It can be helpful here to check in with your supervisor and have a regular performance review with clearly outlined goals and standards. Are you completely hopeless at using this one software, or do you need some specific training to improve? And is your colleague really better than you, or are you just seeing one aspect of her work life–and what are your own accomplishments?
- Keep a record of the good stuff that’s happened to you–and the good stuff you’ve done. When you’re caught up in your negative thoughts, it’s easy to forget or dismiss all the great things you’ve achieved and the great connections you’ve made. So write it down. Keep a journal or a folder (or an online document) listing all the good things that you’ve done and the good things that have happened to you, from the big stuff–”I got a promotion today!”–to the small stuff–“Rashid said ‘good work’ on the PowerPoint slides” and “Beth said she liked my skirt.”
- Related to this, practice self-care. Go for a quick 15-minute walk outside. Get something to eat and drink some water. Find a quiet spot in your workplace to meditate and gather your thoughts. It’s important to keep yourself in good working order, physically and emotionally, like taking your car to the mechanic or cleaning your house.
- Reach out. Talk with your colleagues and your friends and family about how you’re feeling. Have a chat with your mentors, for advice and support. It may even be worth seeing a therapist if you feel that your work and well-being are suffering; there should be a number of low-cost options in your area. Remember: you’re not alone.
Imposter syndrome can be insidious, insinuating itself into your thoughts and actions and undermining all your hard work. It’s important to fight it so that you can reach your full potential–but more than that, it’s important that you stay happy, healthy, and whole. Don’t forget: you belong exactly where you are.
Gillian Robinson | Contributing Writer