Great achievers admit they suffer from it, celebrities are often plagued by it and females are more likely to admit to it. What is it? Impostor syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is the feeling that you’re a fraud in your job or career. You feel like you don’t belong or know what you’re really doing and, worst of all, that someone is going to find out and you will be exposed.
According to an article published by Forbes most leaders privately experience some form of impostor syndrome. Their research shows that 69% of leaders enter new jobs feeling unprepared for what’s expected of them. They often have little understanding of what they are up against until they get there. And when leaders experience feelings of being a fraud they tend to overcompensate with extreme attempts to be perfect, which only makes matters worse. That’s not the solution – I’ll tell you what I think is in a second.
Why graduates must know how to cure impostor syndrome
Firstly, I believe impostor syndrome is a phenomenon you ought to know about as a young person or recent graduate embarking on your career. Or anyone else for that matter. The reason why is because you may experience impostor syndrome and feel confused about it. Your lack of understanding may cause these feelings to derail your career. You may believe you lack what it takes to go after the job you dream of. But if even accomplished leaders and celebrities sometimes feel prone to it how much more you at the beginning of your career?
So, if leaders with several years more experience than you feel inadequate, so will you. A year before he won the Pulitzer prize for his novel Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck wrote in his diary, “I am not a writer. I have been fooling people for years.” Impostor syndrome doesn’t discriminate against job title or career status and, although research shows that more women admit to it than men, it affects both males and females.
You can still feel like an impostor even after years of being in your career. Even after writing 11 books Maya Angelou said she still felt like an impostor. Our inner critic tells us that every success of the past was a fluke and that this time people are going to find us out!
The simple cure for impostor syndrome is…
The simple cure for impostor syndrome is to reframe it. Change the meaning. Just because you feel inadequate doesn’t mean it’s true, so let’s reframe it.
In his article on the subject, FreshBooks CEO Mike McDerment (who has also experienced feelings of being an impostor) pointed out the following three ways in which impostor syndrome tends to show itself:
- You feel like you don’t have all the answers
- You doubt your own ability
- You worry your fears will be proven true
Let’s reframe each of these.
You feel like you don’t have all the answers.
Well, of course you don’t! And to think you do is arrogant. Instead, admit that you don’t know everything and set yourself the task of finding out what you don’t know by studying the nature of the problem to find a solution to match. And the answers don’t necessarily have to come from you – ask other people.
You doubt your own ability.
Let me ask you this: do you have the ability to learn? Good. So, start with what you do know and seek to learn the rest. There was a time when you didn’t have the ability to walk, or talk, or to post a comment on LinkedIn, but you do now, don’t you? So, you do have the ability. Learn from those who are more experienced or knowledgeable than you. Draw on your past successes to help build your confidence.
You worry your fears will be proven true.
This is what fuels impostor syndrome: fear. But, if we take the steps above this fear is less likely to grip us. If you admit that you don’t have all the answers but you’re going to find them, you don’t need to worry over whether someone is going to find out that you don’t. As leadership guru John Maxwell says, “Feed your faith and starve your fear”.
I am going to finish off with what I believe is the ultimate killer blow to and cure for impostor syndrome. It will help you combat feelings of inadequacy forever. You can read about it here in The Ultimate Killer Blow to Feeling Like an Impostor, which is part two of this blog.