If you are new to a leadership position, you may feel like you don’t belong. You spend every day hoping to live up to expectations, all while fearing that at any moment, people will discover you shouldn’t be there. This feeling can strike anyone. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg discussed similar experiences in her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, where she writes, “And every time I didn’t embarrass myself—or even excelled—I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.” If you’ve ever felt the same, then you’ve likely experienced imposter syndrome.
Sandberg’s words resonate with many people. Those with imposter syndrome feel like they don’t measure up—like they shouldn’t be in their new position. Imposter syndrome is a common feeling, especially among people who hold themselves to the highest performance standards.
It’s also a feeling high achievers should get rid of as soon as they can, as it can deal a death blow to your confidence and affect your performance at work.
Knowing the causes of imposter syndrome will make it that much easier for you to conquer. This article will help you know what imposter syndrome is, what it feels like, and how to beat it.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome, first coined by Paulina Rose Clance in 1978, is the result of having an identity crisis. When you have difficulty figuring out who you are and what you want to accomplish in life, you have an increased risk of suffering from imposter syndrome. It often affects those who lack feelings of self-worth or who don’t know their self-value. Because of this, they feel like they need to overcompensate in many aspects of their life. Over time, they can feel like a fraud.
People who experience imposter syndrome need to figure out their identity first and foremost.
Identity begins to form with your parents. The way they talked to you, raised you, and taught you are all significant components in forming your identity in the early years of your life. As you grow older, other important figures central to your identity enter your life. Perhaps you had coaches who inspired you. Or maybe you had a mentor or teacher who guided you during some of the most important moments of your development.
Identity can also come from personal beliefs. Many religions, modern and ancient, focus on what God tells individuals about themselves. Through this lens, many people form a core idea about who they are and what they should do during their lives. Even those who see themselves as non-religious can gain identity through spiritual means or other sources of inspiration.
What Imposter Syndrome Feels Like
At times, the imposter phenomenon can be tough to identify, especially when you’re in the thick of it. With imposter syndrome, there’s usually a direct conflict between your perceived identity and the new position you’re in. This can lead to heightened stress levels and feelings of inadequacy.
Are you wondering if you suffer from imposter syndrome? Start by examining your emotions during times of success. Do you feel like your skills and talents helped you achieve that success, or do you think it all came down to luck? If you answered yes to the latter question, then you may have a case of imposter syndrome.
You can also look at the type of pressure you put on yourself. Do you work hard because you like the job? Or do you do it because you worry that people will recognize you as a failure if you don’t? Maybe you work hard because you feel guilty about being in your current position. All that pressure can have a negative impact on your mental health, leaving you with disparaging and secret thoughts of being inadequate and fake.
Imposter syndrome can appear in several different ways. Valerie Young, an expert on imposter syndrome, identified five different personas for those who feel like an imposter. Take a look at the following types and see if any of them describe you.
5 Types to Watch Out For
- The Expert: The expert is someone who absolutely must have all the information before they do something. They also feel hesitant to ask questions because they don’t want to look stupid.
- The Superhero: These people feel like they have to prove they’re not imposters by working harder than ever. When they feel like they aren’t achieving anything, they feel stressed out.
- The Perfectionist: It shouldn’t be a surprise that perfectionists set high standards for themselves. If they fall short in any area, even by just a little bit, they automatically think they have failed. Even small mistakes leave them feeling awful.
- The Natural Genius: For much of their lives, the natural genius has been able to achieve success without much effort. So when they have to work hard for something, it means they’ve failed in their minds.
- The Soloist: Someone with a soloist mentality prefers to work alone. They feel like a fraud if they have to ask others for help in getting things done.
Beat Imposter Syndrome at the Source
Many people who experience imposter syndrome either lack a concrete identity or do not have a firm conviction in their identity. Therefore, beating imposter syndrome comes down to figuring out or building your identity. You can do this by executing the following steps.
- Write down your core values: This allows you to see what you cherish the most. It also helps determine what drives you.
- Seek connection from those who will give you praise: This may be from a trusted friend, family member, teacher, or mentor. The more specific the praise, the better idea you’ll get of where you excel. Follow the wise words of J.R.R. Tolkien: “Praise from the praise-worthy is beyond all rewards.”
- Ask team members about your strengths: People too often focus on their weaknesses when they have imposter syndrome. Reach out to your team members and get them to tell you what you’re good at.
- Pray or meditate: Take the time to clear your mind. Remove the distractions around you, and focus on the positive. A calming influence from prayer or meditation will help you concentrate on what really matters.
It’s natural to feel out of sorts when you take on new challenges outside your comfort zone. That’s actually a good sign. It means that you’re growing as a person as you stretch yourself and develop your skills. Don’t let feelings of inadequacy get you down. Keep working and telling yourself you have what it takes. If at any point you feel like things are getting too hectic, you can always return to your comfort zone momentarily to recharge.
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