Have you ever felt that you were the only one in a classroom or meeting who didn’t have a clue what was going on?
You look around the crowd of concentrating faces and wonder how the heck you earned your place among them. How did you manage to wangle your way in?
Your heart starts to race as you wonder what may happen once you’re found out. You try to frantically “fool everyone” that you belong.
Pretend that — you too — know what you’re doing.
What if I told you that chances are, most of the others around you have the same recurring insecurity — and that you have them just as fooled?
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist — despite evident success. These alleged “imposters” suffer from chronic self-doubt which overrides any proof of their competence. And of course, anyone — from any gender or background — can experience this.
However, according to imposter syndrome expert, Clare Josa, women are much more prone to this phenomenon. This is backed by recent research from British bank NatWest, as part of its #OwnYourImposter campaign, which showed that 60% of women who have considered starting a business didn’t do so solely because of a lack of confidence — despite their skills. In fact, the term “imposter syndrome” was first coined in the 1960s as a syndrome specifically affecting women as they entered the professional world in droves at the brink of a new chapter in women’s emancipation, set to prove themselves amongst their male peers.
Not only is this gender bias hugely unfortunate, but it can actually contribute considerably to lingering gender inequities such as the infamous gender pay gap, as women fall behind simply because their fear of being inadequate is holding them back.
Some point at women’s lower levels of testosterone as the culprit of this confidence deficit. Although the science on this is interesting, the key component here — as often is the case — seems to be social conditioning.
Women are subconsciously convinced as early as childhood that they cannot and will not be as competent as their male counterparts. Sure, they can get that degree or that job, but there will always be a man close by who will allegedly and inexplicably know better. Both the man and the woman in question have been conditioned to believe that this is so, and so the act continues, and each party plays along.
How to cope with Imposter Syndrome
The first step is recognizing that you do, in fact, have imposter syndrome. By definition, having imposter syndrome means that you have had success in life but struggle to claim those successes as your own. It may be easy to brush off any comments that you are good at what you do as luck, but it is actually much more likely that you are simply — dare you admit it — quite talented and qualified.
It also helps to realize that most of us feel that we are just winging it at times, and that none of us feel we have it all sussed out. No matter how successful we are, or well-respected in our field, there will be moments of self-doubt and wondering how on earth we made it so far.
When is somebody going to figure out that you were pretending all along and call you out for the fraud that you are?
(Spoiler alert: never.)
Instead of dwelling on how you feel inferior, take lessons from what you struggle or don’t feel confident with and use them constructively. And be kind to yourself: Remember that you are entitled to make mistakes occasionally this doesn’t take away from your talent or status.
Learn to forgive yourself. We’re all human and can’t perform perfectly all the time — but that’s how we grow. Take more notice of what you get right and how you’re improving rather, than dwelling on your mistakes along the way.
Lastly: don’t be scared to seek support and recognize “imposter” feelings as they emerge. Remember that there’s no shame in seeking assistance or for a second opinion; you don’t have to do everything alone or get everything perfect first time around.
Imposter Syndrome: The Bottom Line
Most people — especially women — will have experienced moments where they don’t feel 100% confident, leading them to believe they somehow winged their way into their current situation and don’t deserve to be there.
But remember this: imposter syndrome is only experienced by those who have found themselves in relative success.
It is this success and high-pressure environment that triggers imposter syndrome in the first place. So chances are — if you identify with this phenomenon — then you’re doing pretty damn well for yourself.
This mindset will help you to manage any challenges you face and become more open about any self-doubt to ensure that the true imposter — imposter syndrome itself — is called out once and for all.