imposter syndrome

Imposter Syndrome: No, you are not faking it

Imposter Syndrome: No, you are not faking it
Reading Time: 6 minutes

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Staring at an email for hours before hitting send because… “What if I’m missing any typos?”- or maybe leading a business meeting when out of the blue comes a question that we cannot solve right away. 

Yes, making mistakes and feeling nervous about them is one of the most human things we can experience. But how do we know if those feelings have turned into a constant fear of not being good or worthy enough? Better yet, how does one get over Imposter Syndrome?

What is Imposter Syndrome and where does it come from?

Perceived fraudulence, which is a lesser-known version of this term, is a psychological phenomenon where a person has strong feelings of self-doubt in their role, abilities, skills, knowledge, or overall self-worth. Now, don’t get confused by the word “phenomenon” here, because feeling like an imposter is far more common than you might think. After all, it has become a trending topic for a reason.

One of them is that the roots of this issue are not tied to one specific situation, but rather found in various life experiences. 

  • It can come from early childhood, having overly demanding parents or being excessively celebrated for accomplishments (basically becoming avert to failure). 
  • Going through environmental conditioning in other areas such as school, hobbies, or work. For example, being in a toxic work environment that only emphasizes mistakes can harvest a lot of self-doubt. 
  • The lack of diversity in the workplace also has an effect on one’s sense of belonging and capacity to take on a role. Trying to fit into a specific “mold of success” means leaving other parts
  •  of the person behind, which triggers a sense of fakeness.
  • Similar to that, following a career path that’s not fulfilling, can make even the top industry players feel like a fraud. Either because they didn’t choose it themselves or because they put money before passion. How do I know if I have Imposter Syndrome?

There are some personality traits and profiles that are likely to suffer from this phenomenon. Let’s take high performers for example, who might be flying their overachieving flag because they are trying to overcompensate for the high standards they’ve set for themselves. Even though their work speaks for itself, they are not buying how good they are. No wonder it’s called perceived fraudulence. It’s all a matter of perspective. 

Of course, not all high performers are driven the same way, and let’s not forget that there’s not one unique way of experiencing imposter syndrome. Just because you don’t identify yourself with this type A personality, it doesn’t mean you should dismiss your experience.

To gauge where you stand in this “make-belief” fakeness, or if you stand there at all, here are some questions based on the 5 types of imposter syndrome described by Dr. Valerie Young, a renowned author, and expert on this topic.

#1 Do you bear the perfectionist badge? 

Imposter type: the perfectionist

Are you the type to fear a typo? To lose sleep over every detail or hold your breath until a project has been reviewed for the tenth time today? Now, why is that? If you feel like that missing exclamation mark completely disproves the work you put into that business pitch, then it’s likely you are suffering from imposter syndrome. 

Things are not perfect. Say you slipped up in one area or another, that doesn’t take away from all the hard work you’ve put into the final product. No matter what a small mistake has cost you, errors, failures, and mess-ups are part of growth. And to be honest, probably no one even noticed that one grammar mistake

Oh… wait.

#2 Are you the know-it-all or drop-it-all type?

Imposter type: the expert

Would you think that nerd, geek, or even know-it-all, are ways in which you describe yourself? How do you feel when someone asks you something and your mind goes blank? Do you feel embarrassed, even if the question is simply “where is the nearest copy station?” 

There’s absolutely no shame in being passionate about knowledge. But you cannot actually know it all. Even within your own realm of well-practiced and stored data, information can slip out every now and then. That doesn’t mean you are a fraud or that people around you think that. So, give your brain a break and take pride in the fact that you’re doing your best.

#3 How do you feel about a helping hand? 

Imposter type: the soloist

Does teamwork make you feel small? Does getting help equates to accepting you are incapable or unskilled? Is sharing the spotlight making you think you don’t deserve it at all? Yes, you can probably get things done on your own, but bringing someone on board doesn’t make everyone else question your work ethic or ability to accomplish a task. 

Whether you ask for or need the help, the saying, “teamwork makes the dream work,” isn’t used for nothing. Though as a society we have been bombarded with messages on how it’s every person for themselves, you don’t have to let it get under your skin. And while it doesn’t mean you have to depend on others to “make it,” you can rely on your coworkers, mentors, friends, and family to support your journey.

#4 Does first-try failure make you nauseous?

Imposter type: the natural genius

Do you have the curse of the prodigée? When you’ve tasted what it’s like to absolutely excel at something, but then feel inadequate when you are not an instant star in a new field? Maybe you were a talented child in the arts or became a household name in a community. And now, you wonder if you still have what it takes.

It can be scary to think that your previous success can’t be transferred into a different area of your life. Or even question if your wins were just a lucky strike when you come across a new challenge you can’t conquer right away. The good news is that a lot of the skills you built in the past can be transferred. The “not so good” news is that you will most likely fail in your first attempts, but that’s just part of actually getting good at something. So be patient with yourself and if first tries aren’t your best, show your resilience by taking another crack at success.

#5 Is the devil in your details? 

Imposter type: the superhuman

Are you not supposed to drop the ball at all? Must every area of your life be sailing smoothly for you to think you got it? Do personal lows make you question your sense of self-worth? Does having a fight with your partner make you wonder if you are failing everyone else? Sure, everything may feel like a domino effect of negativity, but just taking a breath and acknowledging each tree in your forest of greatness can help realign your focus on what matters.

It is so hard to keep everything on track, because, well, the world does not depend on you. So you can drop the cape and allow things to run their course. Though letting things flow is easier said than done, practicing self-awareness and self-compassion can help you tear down the mask you’ve put up on every front.

Taking baby steps

Well, just like there is no one way to experience it, there is not just one way to manage it. However, if you have already identified your imposter mask and accepted that you are going through it, you are on the right track. As cliché as it may sound, admitting it is the first step. Why? Because those same feelings of unworthiness can make you feel like you are even faking your imposter syndrome!

Another way to stay on the right track is to reflect on where exactly your feelings of fraudulence began. Does it stem from one bad experience or did it grow over time through habits? Trying to find the source will help you process and face those feelings whenever they arise. Taking it a step further would be to also reflect on past successes, even those you deem as small. Part of conquering this syndrome is to embrace your greatness to even out your insecurities.

Finding a safe space and a person you trust to externalize those feelings is also very important. If your imposter syndrome shows up more at work, then try approaching your boss, coworkers, or someone from HR to express your concerns. Keeping an open communication channel with your company can make strides in letting them know how to improve and prevent these cases from overtaking the workplace culture.

Lastly, each person’s journey is definitely different and can be delicate, especially since this syndrome can often be found along with anxiety and depression. Seeking professional help is another great step towards recovery. This might be challenging, not just for all the soloists out there, but ultimately it will lead you to get back to feeling like your truest self again.

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