My New Attitude Toward Impostor Syndrome
What IS Impostor Syndrome?
If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a condition that derives from uncertainty and lack of self-confidence. People who have impostor syndrome may be perfectly confident in one aspect of their lives, but in others, they struggle with the fear that they’re going to be discovered at any moment as the fraud they are. For me, the best way to describe this feeling has always been to use the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy pulls back the curtain to reveal that the great and powerful Oz, is really nothing more than a fraud. He’s convinced the citizens of Oz for years that he’s great and powerful but really he’s just a man behind a curtain, pulling levers and pushing buttons. He has been revealed as an impostor to everyone. This is exactly the way that Impostor Syndrome has always felt to me. Impostor Syndrome can also be a thing that paralyzes you and keeps you from being who you really want to be. Fear of being exposed as a fraud can keep you from interviewing for that job you really want, writing the book you really want to write, or even dating the person you really want to date because on some level you feel like you don’t deserve to have that success. Impostor Syndrome can lead to types of self-sabotage that then, in turn, prove yourself right that you didn’t deserve the great thing you want. If you don’t truly believe you deserve something you’re probably not going to put your full effort into achieving it. Each time you fall short of achieving that goal it reinforces for your little voice of doubt, that you didn’t really deserve it anyway. Often, I find that it happens even when I do achieve my goal. When I am told I did a great job, or I meet a really important deadline I find the little voice in my head tells me anyone could have done what I did, and those who are praising my work are really just trying to be kind.
It Comes Down to Confidence
Just like every other woman I know, I wear a lot of hats. I’m a wife, a mother, a professional, a friend, a sister, a daughter, and last but not least I’m a writer. In literally every one of those things I just listed except the last one I kick ass and take names every single day. I’m confident that I’m a good wife, mother, I’m good at my job, I take good care of my parents and my sister and I’m a great friend. Have you figured out where my impostor syndrome lurks? That’s right, in my goal of being a great writer. You see, that goal seems bigger and scarier to me than the others. I know how to be good at the other things because I have role models, and experience to follow. As a writer, my dreams and goals seem much scarier to me and I have doubts that I’ll ever achieve them. So, when I do get some token of success like a publishing contract or a great review, I’m tempted to tear it down and pick it apart. Oh, that reviewer was just being kind. Oh, that publisher probably offers contracts to everyone who submits to them. Oh, sure my book was okay but this other person’s book was fan-freaking-tastic why can’t I write like that?
What Causes Impostor Syndrome?
Each of us is different, obviously, so I can’t guarantee that my experience will mirror your own but I hope that it at least kick starts some thinking for you to get to the root of your own impostor syndrome. Recently I was reflecting on when was the first time I remembered feeling like an impostor? When was the first time I remembered feeling like everyone was going to figure out I didn’t belong where I was? Unsurprisingly for me, this was definitely an experience I had in Jr. High. Most of us experience at least a mildly traumatic event in our life between 6th grade and 10th grade. These are crucial developmental years when we are trying very hard to figure out who we are, and what makes us unique. We’re trying to identify our passions and our desires in life and the world is simultaneously very hard on us. Kids at this age are notoriously cruel and bullying quite often rears its ugly head. Take a moment now and reflect on when you first remember feeling like an impostor. Close your eyes, take a deep breath. Concentrate on relaxing your shoulders, your neck, and anywhere else you feel stress or tension. Then let your mind go back and pick out the first time you felt like you didn’t belong, were going to be exposed as a fraud, or other ways that you felt like an impostor. Did you come up with a moment in time when you first experienced impostor syndrome? If so, that’s great. Write it down somewhere in a journal or a private place so you can spend time over the next few days reflecting on why you felt that way then, and how you’ve carried that feeling throughout your life. If you didn’t come up with a time, that’s okay. Try again later when your mind is more relaxed and see if you can pinpoint a moment in time for yourself.
Who Experiences Impostor Syndrome?
According to Airial Clark’s Impostor Syndrome series in the Sanity & Self App, most women who identify as having Impostor Syndrome also tend to have Type A personalities. Another trait these women share is a perfectionist streak, trying to be perfect always guarantees we fall short of our goals. We also tend to have in common that we set incredibly high standards for ourselves that we would never hold others to. We would never expect our friends, or families or even co-workers to the same high standard we set for ourselves. We’re the first to say it’s okay when they fail or make a mistake, but when we do it ourselves we struggle to forgive ourselves. She shares the names of instantly recognizable, undeniably successful people like author Maya Angelou, Justice Sotomayor a Supreme Court Justice. Both of these women are highly recognized as being at the top of their individual fields, well-respected, and highly successful and yet they have both shared they have experienced impostor syndrome in their lives.
A New Way of Thinking
If you’re at all like me, I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about Impostor Syndrome. I’ve attended workshops, read books, online articles, watched YouTube videos and never felt like any of those did anything but tell me what I already knew. I had Impostor Syndrome. Nothing gave me any clues about why I had these feelings, or how to stop feeling that way. When I listened to the audio from Airial Clark, I had one of those classic lightbulb moments. If I had been in a cartoon, I’d have had an actual bulb appear above my head and click on signifying that I finally got it. I have impostor syndrome because I am trying too hard, and expecting the impossible of myself. I am trying to be perfect when I am far from it. In the audio series mentioned above Airial Clark cautions us about thinking that our impostor syndrome is a motivator because that can be exhausting. And I do agree with that thinking that you’re going to fail every minute of every day and fearing that you will be found out as an impostor and living in fear of that would definitely be exhausting. What I’m doing instead is a slightly shifted version of that thinking. Rather than focusing on the idea that I may fail, that I may indeed have the curtain pulled back to reveal that I am a fraud and not actually a wizard, I’m focusing on a few other ideas.
- I am doing my best at any given moment. To me that means that I am working as hard as I can at learning, evolving, and growing my skills and my knowledge so that when I do mess up (because I will) I can learn from that and move forward. I also try very hard to forgive myself as quickly as I would for someone else for making a mistake.
- Not comparing myself to others. This one, admittedly, is hard. But, the simple truth is we are all unique individuals and that means we all have things we are good at and other things we’re not so good at. This is true of all aspects of our lives. Some of us are better at being creative and thinking outside the box. Others are great at following the protocol and rules we’re given and making sure things stay on track. The world needs both types of people to work.
- Never, ever accepting what I’ve got as the best it can be. Always working hard to improve so that I continue to get better results at the things I’m working hardest at.
About the Author
Angela Keck is the community manager for Sanity & Self. You can always find her hanging out on the Real Convo tab of the app, on our social media pages, as well as right here on the blog. In addition to being passionate about self-care, Angela is also a wife, a mother of two, and a writer (in her spare time).