Imposter Syndrome describes individuals who internalize their accomplishments and fear they will be discovered as a fraud. Often it affects high achieving people who genuinely believe their success must be attributed to luck. I’ve felt it at different points in my life. Typically when I get a new job, I wonder if I tricked them in the interview. What if I got lucky with interview questions but I’m not actually qualified? What if they find out after a few weeks that they’ve made a terrible mistake and I’m not who they think I am?
It also occasionally shows itself in other aspects of my life. Specifically, I run a few times a week, have completed a half marathon and a few other races, but would never consider myself a runner. When I am running, I sometimes think other runners out there know I’m not a runner. Or I think, maybe I’ll feel like a runner after I get faster or run more races. If you think about it, I run. By definition, I am a runner. Still sounds incorrect…
The same thing happens with baking. I absolutely love baking but never would I tell someone that I’m a baker. I bake a decent amount, love trying new recipes, am obsessed baking shows (specifically The Great British Baking Show, which is obviously the best one) and am constantly buying new kitchen gadgets. But again, I sometimes think, maybe another year or after I can make X, I’ll finally feel like a baker.
Imposter syndrome is very bizarre and that fear of being ‘found out’ can hold you back. So here are 5 things I do to overcome it.
1. Fake it Till You Make it
Seriously. If you feel underqualified doing something, do that thing until it becomes second nature. For example, if you’ve just started a job as a writer and you start to think, “they’re going to find out I’m a bad writer.” Just write. It will feel like you’re “faking it,” but you’re not, you’re writing. Rather than being afraid to fail, just continue to write until your confidence is high enough that you don’t have that fear anymore.
2. Say “I Don’t Know"
This is hard. We all know how scary it can be to admit we don’t know something, especially if we’re not sure if that thing is something basic or advanced. When I first started in software development, I knew nothing about servers. This meant that when someone asked me to put my code on a test server I had no idea what they were talking about. I never learned this in college, it was completely foreign to me. At first I panicked because it seemed like a basic part of software development that I didn’t know. Then I realized that I just needed to ask. Was I revealed as a fraud and fired? No, it was probably a 5-minute tutorial that I don’t even remember.
3. Add Value
When you’re not sure what to do, focus on adding value. It’s not always easy to figure out what your actual job is supposed to be until you’ve been there for a while, which can make the first few months uncomfortable. However, it’s immediately easy to see where the gaps are. Find areas where you can help, don’t overthink it, and just be productive. At the end of the day no one is going to be mad if work that needed to get done, did in fact get done.
4. Don’t Compare Yourself
Comparing yourself to other successful people can be an easy downward spiral and social media is a trigger. Whether it’s seeing someone get promoted on LinkedIn, someone’s before and after picture on Facebook, or the #welldeserved perfect vacation on Instagram, they’re all great at making your accomplishments seem miniscule. Just remember, no one posts their average days.
5. Recognize Your Success
Most importantly, realize that you didn’t get to where you are because of luck. You didn’t trick everyone up until now. You worked hard, someone saw something in you and unless you’re receiving negative feedback every day, you’re probably doing just fine.
Finally, if you still need some encouragement, realize that you’re not alone. Even these celebrities, like Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington suffer from it. Their quotes about their thoughts of “being found out” can help everyone realize that these fears are unfounded.