Imposter Syndrome, let's discuss
Dearly beloved; today, I want to talk about Imposter Syndrome. That old chestnut, ey? Now, I’m not going to lie to you, this article wasn’t entirely selfless, because I suffer majorly from it too. (A lot of us do, and one of the great things about the Coven (shout out to Sapphire) is that we have a space to share how we’re feeling. If you don’t feel it, I salute you, and keep being your boss self.) What I wanted to know was, having suffered from it my whole life so far, could I view it as useful, instead of detrimental?
But firstly, what is imposter syndrome? It’s when you feel inadequate to do the work you’re fully capable of performing. You feel like your perceived success, defined however it may be, is all an act. The work you’re doing feels like a front you’re fooling people into falling for, whilst you flounder around feeling like a fake and a fraud. In short, you feel like an imposter.
And this is contrary to the evidence too, which is what makes it impostor syndrome, and not just a lack of self-confidence. Any successes you’ve achieved so far and any evidence you have to suggest you’re bloody brilliant at what you do is something you feel you got via sheer luck, or it’s no big deal, or it’s something that anyone could have done if even you had done it!
Does that sound familiar? Thought so.
The advice for getting rid of it is varied, but it centres majorly around self-belief. Valerie Young, a renowned expert on Imposter Syndrome (and the owner of impostorsyndrome.com – do you reckon she ever feels it herself?!) has categorised the imposter sufferer into 5 categories:
For the Perfectionist who always believes they could have done better, the trick is to learn to take mistakes in their stride and accept them as a natural part of the process, and realise that there never will be a ‘perfect time’. For The Superwoman, who pushes themselves harder against their colleagues because they feel fraudulent, the advice is to veer away from external validation and learn to take constructive criticism seriously, but not personally. The Natural Genius, who reasons that if they had to work hard at something they must be bad at it, is advised to view themselves as a work-in-progress. For the Rugged Individualists who fear that asking for help reveals their fraudulence, the advice is to start framing things based on their needs as a person, not the needs of the project that need to be met (at their expense). Finally, if you’re The ‘Expert’, who deeply fears being exposed as incompetent or not experienced enough, you need to set aside time for just-in-time learning, picking up skills as and when needed, and realise there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. (For more in-depth understanding, the profiles are here: https://www.fastcompany.com/40421352/the-five-types-of-impostor-syndrome-and-how-to-beat-them and they’re super interesting!)
No matter which of the above types you are, the advice is about reframing your mental mindset, and accepting yourself as completely capable and totally copacetic. Luckily – and wonderfully – there’s loads of literature out there on different ways to approach your mentality, be it positive affirmation, manifestation, healing, exercise, meditation…the list goes on. For that reason, I don’t really feel like I have much I can add to that topic, so I won’t bore you with it. What I do want to make you think about, before we beat up ourselves into OBLIVION for feeling like this, is whether Impostor Syndrome actually has any benefits. My reasoning is, if we feel it so frequently, can we use it to our advantage?
It makes you work hard. If you’re waiting, day by day, to be exposed as a fraud, the chances are you’re pedalling damn hard underwater to try and make that day as far away as possible. It’s nigh impossible to suffer from Imposter Syndrome and be complacent, so you will be working super hard to get where you want to be. Whether that’s double checking work or exploring every possible avenue to make sure you’ve not missed anything, you are getting. The job. Done.
It means you’re constantly learning. If you reframe the feeling that “Oh SHIT, everyone in this room is so much smarter than me!”, you can get “This is a fucking BRILLIANT learning opportunity from people I aspire to be”. Like a sponge, you’ll soak up so much from so many people, and it’ll all be useful in the long run.
It makes you an incredible team player. You’ll be cooperative as hell, because you mistrust yourself, meaning you place more trust in other people. Your openness to other people’s opinions is the quality of an excellent, and humble leader.
It helps you critically evaluate. I know, the whole point of the thing is we’re trying to avoid over-critical evaluation, but it’s what Mike McDermont (the CEO of Freshbooks) calls ‘thinking in problems’. Instead of thinking of a million solutions that you feel you’ll fail at, you take steps backwards to assess why things actually happened the way they did, rather than just pinning it all on your perceived (and untrue) ineptitude.
Now, I don’t want to belittle or fetishize Imposter Syndrome – it’s debilitating and definitely not desirable. You can have all of the above traits without Imposter Syndrome, I know. But the truth is everyone (other than actual imposters) feels the Imposter Syndrome from time to time. And I think that’s what I’m getting at, in a roundabout way – if people like Bill Nye and the COO of Facebook wake up some days thinking they’re not worth their salt, then we shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling like we’re not either. And as it seems like a pretty inevitable part of life – although a reducible one, and I urge you to actively try and reduce it so that you give yourself the mental space you deserve – next time you feel it, have a think about how fucking great you are instead.
By Ellie Kime