“Impostor syndrome” — the feeling that you are a fake or a fraud — usually goes along with a fear that people will find out you are not actually good at what you say can do. Or perhaps that you can’t do it at all.
Most of my clients and colleagues all mention feeling this way at one time or another. I have felt this way myself, in everything I’ve ever undertaken, including graduate school, urban design, coaching, and writing. The internal message runs something like, “I don’t know what I’m doing and someone is going to notice. I’ll be found out. They’ll know I’m a fraud.”
Is this for real?
Wikipedia describes impostor syndrome as a “psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments,” and that “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.”
Apparently this feeling is most common among people (both men and women) who are highly intelligent and who are high achievers.
Isn’t this interesting?
The “impostor cycle”
This post notes that it’s not actually a psychological problem but rather a cultural phenomenon tied to learned behavioral patterns of high achievers who get caught in an “impostor cycle” of over-preparing and procrastination. To me, this reads like part of the formula for perfectionism too.
What can we do?
On the days when you feel like a fraud:
- Remind yourself of all the things you HAVE accomplished: The work you’ve done, the lives you’ve touched, the relationships you’ve built, and the experiences you’ve had. If it helps, make a list and keep it handy for an emergency.
- Remember to ratchet back your expectations to aiming for great work rather than pushing yourself past all reasonable human limits striving for perfection.
- Recognize that you’re probably feeling insecure because you’re venturing into new territory or wanting to reach for something bigger.
- Don’t let yourself go into hiding or hold yourself back — keep reaching for your dreams.
Tell me what you think
Do you ever feel like a fraud? How do you deal with it? Share your thoughts.