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akward, especially at work.
I likely shared this blog in an attempt to further a conversation. Usually the post does a better
job at succinctly sharing information
than I could by talking.
In any case, I hope me sharing this post doesn't come across as
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We're All Imposters
7 min read
Which means no-one really is
Wikipedia describes Imposter Sydnrome as a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Imposter Syndrome has obviously always existed, but the term itself seems to have gained more popularity over the last 5 years or so. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve experienced it yourself. Most people do.
While the outcome is often the same - the fear of being exposed - what’s interesting is that the underlying causes for Imposter Syndrome can vary a lot.
People also don’t tend to experience only one of the different Imposter Syndrome types (see infographic). Indeed, it’s pretty common to experience different types in different situations. Or a mix, all at the same time. As with all complex emotions, this tends to complicate things and cloud our judgement and ability to self-reflect objectively.
Still, putting things in buckets often helps to identify different feelings, structure thoughts and channel subsequent conversations.
The Need for Confirmation
The need to feel that you’re doing well at your job (and life in general) is universal. So is the need to hear that being said by others; we all need pats on the back.
In the absence of such confirmation, it’s only natural that self-doubt develops - doubt that is often experienced as Imposter Syndrome.
While some folks can get by with only the occasional compliment, there is also a huge group of us that are hungry for much more frequent confirmation.
Young adults: often caused by actual lack of experience combined with the idea that others have unrealistic expectations of them. Add to that the transition from childhood (in general, lots of positive reinforcement) to adulthood (much less confirmation).
Generalists: by having a lot of breadth but only depth in a few or no areas, and consequently thinking that others believe you’re an expert in everything. Which you’re obviously not.
Perfectionists: because only the best is good enough as everything you do is a reflection of your character. Everyone will judge you based on what you deliver. Not.
Call to action: be more generous with complimenting others (make sure you mean it though) - you might just make someone’s day and take away some of their Imposter Syndrome at the same time.
Sidenote: Parental Confirmation Confirmation from one's parents is something most people look for throughout their entire lives. Even when people are well into their adult lives, they often still desire their parents to validate and approve of their (big) life decisions. While this diminishes with age as people learn their parents are also just flawed human beings who're winging it just like them, many people struggle with this for a long time.
Comparing yourself to others
People compare themselves to others “who are doing better” all the time; often this leads to unhealthy self-doubt and becomes a breading ground for Imposter Syndrome.
One problem with comparing ourselves to others is that we tend to focus on just one aspect of the other’s life and not consider the whole picture. Yes, people can be successful in something, but rarely does that happen without deprioritizing or sacrificing other things. Things that might be very important to you.
The career chaser or workaholic, who doesn’t have or want a family
Is that success worth sacrificing those other things to you?
The 30-year old married friend who’s also house-owner with 2 kids
Having a partner, owning a house and raising a family isn’t only rainbows and unicorns - it takes constant commitment and requires its own sacrifices. Are you ready for that?
That acquaintance who never works and only travels the world, but has few deep relationships or belongings
This sounds amazing on paper, but often isn’t without hardship and loneliness on a day-to-day basis.
However, this “nothing comes without a cost” argument misses the real point: we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves at all. Comparison creates an unhealthy win-lose dynamic which isn’t only toxic for ourselves, it’s often also toxic for our relationships.
So when you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else and feeling bad or an Imposter as a result, try to be mindful and snap out of it. It can be good to look up to someone, but the line between inspiration and jealousy is often very thin.
More generically, if you have relationships where interactions make you feel bad about yourself more often than not, it’s time to re-evaluate those. This doesn’t mean anyone is necessarily to blame for this, it’s just that the relationship you have needs to change.
Not meeting your own bar
Imposter Syndrome often also comes from feelings of guilt and insecurity. This often occurs when people feel like they’re not meeting their own moral standard or when they experience contradictory thoughts (cognitive dissonance) or a mismatch between their own words and behavior (hypocrisy).
Is staying silent the same as lying?“Earlier today, Mary told everyone I’m an expert, and I didn’t interrupt to correct her that I’ve only done this once.”
Not working hard enough: “Everyone thinks I’m working all day and night, but I’m really just browsing reddit for half of the day.”
Hypocrisy: “I’m always going on about the importance of climate change, but I take airplane flights every month.”
The Imposter Syndrome comes in when people start being afraid that someone else will find out and call them out on the contradiction.
But this is an irrational fear because:
Moral standards are per definition subjective: what you find wrong might be totally ok to someone else. As such you’re worrying about someone else’s interpretation of your personal standards and integrity. In this regard, there’s no way to satisfy everyone as people have different beliefs and varying interpretations of the same beliefs. In addition, it’s impossible to know what others are truly thinking - and hugely exhausting to spend time worrying about it. What really matters is that we’re truthful with ourself - make sure you are.
We tend to be too harsh for ourselves: we’re all flawed and having contradictory thoughts, behavior and emotions is exactly makes us human. Don’t overthink it: forgive yourself, and try again next time.
So how do you deal with Imposter Syndrome? Knowing it has a name (Imposter Syndrome) and being able to identify the feeling when it occurs is a critical first step.
In addition, as with failure, putting things into perspective often helps. Consider the following.
On the off-chance you still thought I’m exempt: definitely not! Whether at work or outside, I deal with Imposter Syndrome on a regular basis. Tweet
Concerning work-related guilt - Remember that unless you’re self-employed, work is a transaction. There is no virtue in being a workaholic: nobody ever says on their deathbed that they wished they worked harder.
While you need to be careful with this thought-pattern to avoid becoming jaded and completely disconnected (which can cause real job performance issues), it is important to remind yourself of the big picture. As long as you get frequent positive signals from your boss and peers, you’re doing more than enough. Try spending the other time on “personal development time” (learning, side-projects), not slacking off, this will ultimately benefit your employer too.
Curb Social Media - “Don’t compare your Behind-The-Scenes with someone else’s highlight reel.” If your FOMO is strong, cut back on Social Media time. Do it.
There’s nobody who thinks about you nearly as much as yourself - Others aren’t continuously asking “What is [your name] doing all day?” or “Is [your name] a competent person? “. Think about it, how often do you ask yourself this question about others? Sure you might wonder about it sometimes, but for most of us that happens (very) infrequently.
Anxiety is often a personal growth-signal If you don’t feel at least a little uncertain about your current job (performance) or life while you usually do, you can ask yourself whether you’re really challenging yourself enough. Do a gut check with friends and family when you’re not sure whether your level of anxiety is still healthy.
Context Matters - The quality of what we do is not only determined by ourselves but also by the context in which we do it. It’s not that we don’t know how to do better, it’s that there isn’t more time or resources. Usually it’s better to recognize situations like this and handle accordingly, rather than trying to get a perfect solution out in imperfect circumstances. Don’t be a hero, that’s usually in your own long-term detriment.
It gets better with age not because you know more (although that is true and helps), but because you care less what others think about you as you realize everyone else is winging and faking it too. Somewhat off-topic: Fun reddit thread and blogpost with life advice and realizations from people with a bit more life experience 🙂
As with many self-help topics, the internet is full of advice. Some of it is really good, and definitely better and more exhaustive than what I can provide.
Just remember that We’re all Imposters, which means no-one really is.