Do you have Imposter Syndrome? Imposter Syndrome is a belief that we are not good enough, accomplished enough, or smart enough and any minute now, we will be exposed as a fraud or imposter and become the laughingstock. Or worse.
Many people struggle with this persistent feeling of doubt and fear that they will be “found out.” It doesn’t matter if we are educated, smart, high-achievers, qualified or competent. This issue does not lie in our credentials, the issue is one of self-esteem. Thus, we cannot outwork it or out-will it. We must, instead, get to the root of the problem. This might require the help of a therapist, and could take some time.
If you feel time is of the essence, and you need to perform now, here are some tips to help you shift your perspective on feeling like a fake:
- Recognize imposter syndrome may be closely tied to perfectionism. You might be the kind of person who fears “doing” unless you can do something perfectly the first time. Perhaps you felt judged as a child on your performance in school or sports–anytime you were learning something new. Perhaps one or both of your parents was highly competitive. Or one was a perfectionist or always felt like a failure him or herself. So, now, as an adult, you only want to do those things you know you are really, really good at for fear of being judged. You might blame yourself for being “lazy” because you feel unmotivated all the time, when, in fact, you are not lazy at all! You just are afraid to fail, because “second place is not good enough.”
- Remember we all start out as beginners, and mastery takes time and practice. Imagine if you saw a child learning to walk, and you laughed and mocked them when they fell down. Imagine telling them: “Ha! You fell down! I guess you will never learn to walk! You’ll be a non-walker the rest of your life. You might as well just give it up now, kid.” That ludicrous, of course, because we ALL come into this world not knowing how to walk. We must learn and the only way we can learn is by doing–and falling. It’s the same thing with anything you are trying to master. The more complex your task, the longer it is going to take you to master. In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill–thus, mastery is roughly 2,000 hours over the course of five years. That’s a long walk, my friends, so cut yourself some slack if you stumble a few times along the way.
- Know that it’s okay to take your time to figure some things out, and failure along the way is almost a certainty.Contrary to what those little voices in your head are telling you, you do not need to be a walking-talking-encyclopedia of knowledge. In fact, you are an idiot or a narcissist if you think you know everything or even could know everything. You are a special kind of stupid if you think you will never fail at anything or get it wrong. As Albert Einstein said: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” If you want to get some perspective, check out this article on famous, successful people who have failed (and be glad no one is writing down and publishing all your failures). Failing does not mean you are a “failure.”
- Accept that formal education is not enough. Seriously. College is theory-based. It’s important. It’s interesting. It gives us a deeper understanding and global view of a subject, perhaps. The parties are great. However, to really learn, we are going to need to get our hands dirty and do the work. The longer you wait to dig in, the more painful–and likely, paralyzing–it is going to be to get started. Remember being a little kid and trying to ease into a very cold pool? And how it was so much less painful just to jump in, let the water take your breath away for a minute, and then spend the rest of the afternoon splashing about happily? it’s the same with mastery. If you really want to get over your fear, you are going to have to take the plunge and start paddling as fast as you can. All the theoretical concepts on diving will not help you if you want to swim.
- Get a mentor–or several. Create a safe place you can go to when you feel you need to ask questions, or confirm you are correct about a theory, strategy or idea. They’ll likely also have a few stories about when they failed spectacularly.