By Milda Urban, Summersalt Yoga founder
Is it ironic that it took me a while to write a post about impostor syndrome, because well, I suffer from it?!
It’s been acting up recently (probably relating to certain work related stress at the moment) and only with some constant repetition of “I have to do it” I have finally managed to sit down and start typing.
What is impostor syndrome?
For those who still haven’t heard about it, Carl Richards, a writer from The New York times describes it quite clearly “Two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, gave it a name in 1978: the impostor syndrome. They described it as a feeling of ‘phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.’ While these people ‘are highly motivated to achieve,’ they also ‘live in fear of being “found out” or exposed as frauds.'”
Even though both genders experience it, it has been noted that women feel like impostors more often than men and it doesn’t surprise anyone (it is said that about 70% of women experience it!!!). We are more likely to question ourselves and be less confident, we raise the bar for ourselves much higher and are more critical when we do not reach it.
I feel like it is important to put it out there that such a thing exists, because otherwise the feeling is even more grim and discouraging. It gets easier when you realize that such highly acclaimed and achieving women as Tina Fey, Meryl Streep, Sheryl Sandberg or Maya Angelou have admitted to suffering from impostor syndrome (I know, right?!).
After speaking up about it to some of my girlfriends I’ve found out that many of them have struggled with impostor syndrome at one stage or another and it seems that it acts up more once they’ve entered a new field or an area where we do not have that much experience (like new job, task, project, challenging studies etc.). Even though I must stress that it is not exclusive to these situations.
Impostor syndrome symptoms include:
- Feeling like a fraud
- Devaluing your worth
- Devaluing or underestimating your own expertise, experience and capabilities
- Being convinced that you will fail
How to fight impostor syndrome?
It took some time for me to understand the issue and start taking some measures to fight it. It is of course not an easy or fool-proof task, but if practiced regularly it definitely helps. Here’s some things I’ve tried or have heard of other women try in order to get their confidence back.
- Failure doesn’t mean you’re a fraud
This one is key for me. I think that many times we fear failure so much that once it happens (and it is inevitable at some point) we identify it with us being frauds/losers as people or as professionals. This is not true and if you manage to look at it from a different perspective or from a position of any other person it will be easier to understand.
Learn from failure, look at it as a study and practice opportunity. It is not pleasant for sure, but if you shine a different light on the situation it will turn from a loss to a gain to some extent.
- Remember and own your achievements
It is natural that us, humans, focus on the negative things and failures more than on the achievements and successes. List all of your wins and realize that you wouldn’t have reached these goals if you were incompetent. Am I right? Own them, do not attribute them to luck or diminish them with such expressions as “but the circumstances where different”, “that was easy”, “I had a lot of help”.
- Keep on learning
Nobody knows everything and even the smartest people in the world are learning every day. Identify what is it that you feel is keeping you from feeling more confident and study those fields more.
- Be present and meditate
Everyone (I know I do) freaks out when they look into the future, new jobs, tasks, projects and start feeling like they are completely not ready to take them on. “Why would I even be promoted, I can’t do this anyway aaah, aah, panic panic panic”. Well, we can’t control the future, so we keep freaking out about it, right? If you focus on the task and situation at hand you will be able to manage anxiety and reassure yourself that you indeed are capable of doing things I have found that meditating daily helps to minimize the anxiety at least a little even though it can be challenging to make the practice regular in the beginning.
- Remove negative talk and vocabulary
Some studies show that there is some benefit to not forcing yourself to be positive at all times and owning the negative emotions.
However, I still find it that controlling the negative energy coming from myself and my surroundings is very powerful.
Simple steps (in the beginning not so easily implemented) are immensely helpful. Stop saying such things as “This or I suck”, “I hate this” (even if you’re talking about traffic or rain), “Well, isn’t this typical – nothing ever works out”, “what’s the point of trying – it will suck anyway”. It is important, I repeat, very important to remove such words and expressions from all life situations, not just work related. Do you really hate it (not just slightly dislike) when your coffee comes too hot or when they run out of your favorite croissants at the bakery?
Same goes for reading overly negative news or hanging out with negative people. Cut these out.