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Imposter Syndrome

You doubt your abilities and knowledge despite the praise of your friends and colleagues. You feel like, some day, you will be found out as a fraud. These feelings are common to those with Imposter Syndrome.

Do you ever feel that, despite your achievements, you are a fraud? That you don’t really know what you are doing, and are undeserving of praise or success?

You are not alone. About 70% of people have felt this way at one time or another.

That feeling is called Imposter Syndrome. Coined in 1978 by clinical psychologist Pauline Clance and Suzanne Ines, Imposter Syndrome is not a disorder. Rather, it refers to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Signs of Imposter Syndrome
  • You have difficulty accepting and internalising praise.
  • You discount your successes, attributing them to external factors (“I was lucky”) or others (“oh, I just helped out”).
  • You are overworked, and invest far too much time and effort into projects, compensating for what you believe is a lack of knowledge or ability.
  • You are an over-achiever and compete with others to be the best.
  • You are a perfectionist, and hold yourself to impossible standards.
  • Paradoxically, you are afraid of failure, so much so that you sometimes do nothing at all to avoid failing.
  • You avoid showing confidence, as you feel you don’t have the intelligence or abilities to back it up.
  • You sometimes dread success because you feel you are not worthy of it, or you will be found out by others as undeserving.
  • Instead of focusing on what you achieved, you dwell on the small things that did not get done.
  • You have the persistent feeling that you are a fraud, a phoney, and that some day, someone is going to recognise you for the loser you really are.
How to Move Past Imposter Syndrome

Be aware of your thoughts. Take a step back and see these “Imposter” thoughts for what they are – inaccurate and unhelpful. Then push them aside, because they are just thoughts. Focus on what is evident: if your project met its goals, or the praise of your colleagues or teachers.

Check in with others. Find supportive friends, colleagues and family members. Let them help you refocus on your achievements, and trust in their opinions. If they tell you your work is great, accept it. If they offer constructive feedback, remember it is to help you improve your work, not to tear you down personally. Learn that there is difference between the two.

Understand that other people are uncertain too. Everyone has moments of self-doubt. Understand you are not inadequate or a fraud, that you are simply feeling something that many others feel as well. To put it bluntly, we all feel stupid sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we are stupid.

Sometimes it is the situation. There are times when feeling like an imposter is natural. If you are the only woman or minority in a workplace, or if you are the only person doing a particular job, it is a normal response to feel like you don’t fit in. Feeling like an outsider is not the same as being inept and incapable.

Leverage those Imposter Feelings. Feel like you know nothing? Assess your knowledge gaps, ask good questions, and seek better answers. Use those feelings to motivate you to grow and learn. Be realistic though — you do not have to know it all.

Take pride in the process. Instead of focusing on the big win at the end, take pride in every step you have taken to get there. It takes effort and organization to meet any big goal. Create a to-do list of what needs to be done, and check each task off as you go along. In the end, you will have proof that you did it!

It’s about values. While people around you may appreciate your finished work, remember that they can also see more. They can see commitment, motivation, persistence, curiosity, energy, humility, and intelligence. You are more than what you produce. If others believe in you, it is because there is something there to believe in.

Do you struggle with Imposter Syndrome? Contact the BFDC. We can help.