The Imposter Among Us
You just achieved something really big. Maybe a perfect test score or that promotion you've been aiming for or perhaps the lead role in your school play. People are patting your back and pulling you into congratulatory hugs. But you feel stuck in this sea of appreciation and respect coming your way, and feel like you're drowning.
Because unbeknownst to the others, you're a fraud. Whatever you have achieved was not the outcome of genuine hard work and talent, it was just pure dumb luck. You can't help but feel like this for most of your accomplishments so far, that they are nothing but hollow lies which paint the picture of someone you're not and never will be.
This psychological phenomenon of feeling inadequate and incompetent despite there being evidence to suggest otherwise is known as Impostor Syndrome. It is commonly experienced by high achievers and leaves people dreading that everyone will "find out" their little secret.
An expert on the subject, Dr. Valerie Young has categorized the people experience this syndrome into five subgroups or "competence types":
The Perfectionist- Are you often accused of micromanaging? Do you have difficulty trusting others with a task and feel dissatisfied with the results when you do? Do you deem yourself simply not cut out for your job when you are unable to achieve the (often unreachable) goals you set for yourself and beat yourself up over it? Do you believe that your work must be perfect all the time with no room for error?
If yes, then you are a Perfectionist who often sets excessively high goals for themselves and experiences major self doubt when met with failure. You can have trouble celebrating your achievements because you always believe that you could have done better. This is neither healthy nor productive and can often lead to burnout.
Practice accepting your errors, they make us human, not incompetent. There is no "perfect time" to start a project and your work will never be completely flawless. But you're worthy in spite of it. The sooner you learn to accept that, the better.
The "Superperson"- These people find themselves feeling like they're phonies amongst the real deal people and work harder to measure up and cover their insecurities. This makes them workaholics and harms their mental health and personal relations.
If you fit into this category then you may find yourself working after hours even when the day's work is over. You can find downtime wasteful, even feeling stressed out when not working, and often sacrificing your hobbies and passions for work. Any appreciation feels undeserved and you keep working harder to prove your worth.
You need to know that no one determines your worth except yourself. Learn not to take constructive criticism personally and work on inner validation.
The Natural Genius- People of this competence type believe that they need to be "natural" geniuses to excel at something, frequently giving up on things that they aren't immediately good at. You could have grown up as the token "gifted kid" with a track record of perfect grades. This causes your confidence to tumble the moment you face a setback, the failure leading to immense shame. You may feel uncomfortable at the idea of doing things that you're not naturally exceptional at and avoid challenges.
To move past this, try seeing yourself as a work in progress. Know that achieving great things involves years of learning, constant effort and persistence. Instead of criticizing yourself for not reaching your high standards, identify and improve your changeable behaviors.
The Soloists- Soloists believe that asking for help is what exposes their incompetence to others. Do you feel like you always need to accomplish things on your own? Perhaps you believe that you need to work alone to truly prove your worth? Does "I don't need anyone's help" feel like a familiar statement to you?
Realize there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. Try to be gentle towards yourself and ask for help for your own betterment.
The Expert- If you fall into this category, you may base your competence on "what" and "how much" you know, constantly feeling like you'll be "exposed" as unknowledgeable and inexperienced because you'll never know enough.
You possibly shy away from applying to job postings unless you meet every single educational requirement and are always seeking out ways to improve your skills. Even if you've been in a role for a long while, you can still feel like you don't know enough and feel uncomfortable when called an expert on a matter.
It’s true that there’s always more to learn but seeking out more information endlessly can lead to procrastination. Try to share your knowledge with others. Not only will it benefit people, it will also help you fight the fraudulent feelings.
If you find yourself relating to any of this, then you're not alone. Studies reveal that 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome at some point of their careers. Remember to accept and embrace your capabilities and celebrate your achievements.
- Adya Bhalla