Here's an ode to everyone who’s struggling with imposter syndrome: You’re not alone, and you’re definitely not a phoney.
I don’t know how to react whenever I receive compliments, especially regarding my work. Do I smile and say thank you? Or do I make a blank face? It’s like navigating a social dance floor: unsure of the next step, a mix of awkwardness and smiles. Usually, I go with the former and throw in a chuckle for good measure, though deep inside, I feel like I don’t deserve the pats on my back. Strange, isn’t it? As someone constantly seeking validation, receiving affirmations should be a welcome relief. Instead, I feel like a fraud. A charlatan.
Why not fake it till you make it? You often hear people saying it, especially in work settings. Well, it’s easier said than done. How do you project confidence when your intrusive thoughts threaten to derail you at every turn?
Truth be told, I never used to be like this. Sure, I’ve had days when I’m uncertain or not confident enough about my work. But it never got to the point where I thought of myself as a scammer. Google tells me I might have imposter syndrome. But is that really accurate, or am I just randomly diagnosing myself based on what I’ve read on WebMD or Verywell Mind? Both websites claim it’s not an actual mental illness; rather, it’s an internal psychological experience.
Everyone feels like a fraud sometimes…
What is imposter syndrome? That sneaky entity lurks in the shadows, casting doubt on your abilities. It’s not just feeling like a fraud; it’s the persistent belief that your achievements are flukes. Those dealing with imposter syndrome are constantly waiting to be exposed. Because of this, they’re perpetually running around in a cycle of self-doubt.
According to Karunesh Prasad, CEO and founder of Board Match Up, a system that matches organisations with the right board-level and C-suite talent, the imposter phenomenon emerges due to high expectations, perfectionism, fear of failure, and the need for external validation. I hit all four targets. Yikes.
“I also tend to connect imposter syndrome to the Dunning-Kruger effect, where individuals with lower competence may feel overconfident, while those with higher competence may doubt themselves,” he adds.
It’s said that this condition tends to impact only women, though Karunesh begs to differ. “It can affect anyone. However, imposter syndrome may be more prevalent among women, high-achievers and people from underrepresented backgrounds, such as minority groups.”
Why are these groups more likely to be affected by impostorism? The common consensus is that there are many factors stacked against them. These can include feeling like they don’t belong, racial or gender discrimination, and poor mentorship.
Imposter syndrome this way comes
Let me clear the air before y’all jump the gun here – my imposter syndrome didn’t arise when I joined the Honeycombers team. It actually reared its ugly head in my previous occupation. Before joining that company, I had already accumulated enough experience in social media marketing and was confident in my abilities. However, it didn’t take long for my former boss to rip me to shreds. They constantly questioned my capabilities, often insinuated that I “didn’t know any better”, and even threatened to give me the boot. They blamed me for their underperforming products.
There’s this perception that a good leader is someone who has clarity of vision and inspires their subordinates. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that – I got impostorism instead. Karunesh tells me a misconception about the condition is that it stems from individuals. “Instead, I attribute imposter syndrome to organisational culture, where there’s a lot of influence that affects the way individuals self-evaluate,” he clarifies. So, it’s not a ‘me problem’. That’s good to know.
Despite being aware of my condition, I’ve yet to get it properly diagnosed. In my mind, it’s an affliction that’ll go away on its own eventually. In fact, I’ve gone through long periods where I didn’t give in to my intrusive thoughts. A win for me? Not quite.
Karunesh highlights that untreated imposter syndrome can lead to stress, anxiety, and burnout. “In extreme cases, it hinders career advancement and negatively affects self-esteem and overall well-being,” he shares. Been there, done that.
Sit down, be humble – but don’t doubt yourself
While I contemplate seeing a professional and getting treatment, I ask if there are strategies or techniques people can use to overcome the syndrome or manage its effects. Karunesh states that the practice of “psychological safety”, where people feel comfortable and safe to speak up, is the most important point for him. Following that are individual mentoring and celebrating successes, including quick wins. “We can never underestimate these aspects,” he says.
I’m blessed to be in an organisation where we actively practise everything mentioned earlier. My editor and superiors often remind me that I can voice my opinions and concerns to them without fear and judgment. Plus, the extended team convenes online every month for a special meeting where we celebrate everyone’s quick wins and honour the “most valuable player (MVP)”. I’ve had the privilege of being conferred that title a few times, But as much as I appreciate the sentiment, it hasn’t sunk in that I rightfully deserve that recognition.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m being modest or if it’s self-doubt. Karunesh opines that it depends on the degree. “An extreme level of self-doubt, which can also exist outside of imposter syndrome, is not only a hindrance to overall efficiency levels but may also affect the ability to function in simple daily tasks.” Luckily, I’ve not gone to that extent.
So, what can you do to stave off impostorism? One thing I’ve been doing is saving emails and messages that sing my praises. Whenever I feel like a phoney, I take a moment to read them. They remind me why I chose to do this work and how far I’ve come. Another tip is to stop fixating on doing things perfectly. Instead, remind yourself that you’re putting in your best effort. But if you’re in a company where you’re unable to speak up freely, turn to your family and friends or reach out to professionals via mental health apps and platforms.
We all can’t be imposters, can we?
When I pitched this idea to my editor, I knew what I was getting myself into. I mean, it’s not the first time I’ve laid myself bare. But this time, it feels different. I suppose it’s because this is related to my job, and no one wants their manager to know how debilitating their imposter syndrome can be. Even though I left my previous employment, the condition remained and manifested.
I may not be doing social media marketing nowadays, but my impostorism has bled into my current occupation. Plenty of times, I question whether I deserve to be here. I lack the qualifications, and every ‘quick win’ feels like a lucky break. I still find it odd when my colleagues praise my writing because I struggle with perfectionism and wish my articles could’ve turned out better after they’ve been published.
However, on days when I grapple with my imposter syndrome, I tell myself not to be too hard on myself. I deserve to be where I am, and my achievements are warranted. I’ve earned everything fair and square; I shouldn’t be ashamed. “You must know that you’re not alone. Even the best professionals feel the same way,” Karunesh tells me.
My struggle isn’t about fooling others but grappling with my feelings of inadequacy. It’s a common yet often misunderstood phenomenon that many of us face. Embracing imperfection is now part of navigating the shadows of doubt for me. As I tread along this path, seeking professional guidance will be another step I’ll take one day.
To everyone who’s going through the wringer like me, know that imperfections aren’t roadblocks – they’re the unique brushstrokes that paint your story. Always remember that while you’re not perfect, you’re undeniably good enough.