8.26 Imposter Syndrome
A few months ago, I met with someone about a project I was pitching. This person was highly creative and doing work that I wanted to help support. The meeting went well and we parted ways. Later that day, a Facebook post popped up from this person where they said how great they felt that someone was taking an interest in their work. My first thought was: That sounds like a good person. My second thought was: Wait, I think they’re talking about me!
This is often my reaction if someone says anything positive about me. It literally feels like they are talking about another person. It was difficult to articulate until I came across the concept of Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome describes individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Imposter Syndrome is not perceived as a mental disorder but as an ingrained personality trait. It can often lead to anxiety, stress, low self-confidence, depression, shame and self-doubt. Psychological research from the 1980s (probably should update this) estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and that 70% of all people have felt like imposters at one time or another.
People with imposter syndrome tend to work harder from others discovering they are a fraud. This hard work leads to more praise and success, which perpetuates feelings of being found out.
Last year, I sent in a finished project to a client. When the client didn’t get back to me right away, I started to get worried that they were unhappy with the final results. When they didn’t get back to me by the end of the day, I thought they were trying to figure out how to fix the crap that I had given them. When they didn’t get back to me the next day, I assumed they were reviewing my contract and constructing a plan on how to replace me. They had realized that I was not good at my job and so were postponing a phone call to let me know that they know I am a fraud. Then they called me, apologizing because they were in transit, and loved the work. All that thinking and worrying for no reason at all. But then I thought: I got away with it again.
CONFIDENCE GOES A LONG WAY
A person can perpetuate their imposter syndrome by avoiding any show of confidence in their abilities. They may believe that if they actually show confidence in their intelligence and abilities, they may be rejected by others.
I’ve heard that on the dating scene, confidence in a man can compensate for a lot of things. I wouldn’t know, as every message I send to someone on a dating site, I just assume that it is disappearing into the ether, never to be responded to. I am usually right. See? Basically, I just demonstrated Imposter Syndrome in real time. This kind of thinking is not attractive in the least, nor does it help anyone. I understand the difference between confidence and arrogance and have a deep-seeded fear of coming off as the latter. But, it would be great to have at least a little bit of confidence, even enough for someone to say, “Sure, I’ll go out on a date with you!”
For people with Imposter Syndrome, proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
When I am in social situations, I am great at asking people questions. People love to talk about themselves and I’ve developed some interviewing skills over the years through podcasting. Two tips to get people talking: have a genuine curiosity about what they do and halfway through the conversation, reference something they said at the beginning. I feel pretty shitty about this sometimes because although I have a deep interest in people, I am also deflecting the attention away from me. My two-prong approach when someone takes an interest in something I said is to quickly and politely dismiss the subject and flip things around with a question about them.
The more I read about Imposter Syndrome, the more it resonated with me. Something I started doing was to write in a journal every morning and every night. My main weapon against falling down into a spiral of negative comments and feelings are facts. I write down the thoughts I had that day and counter them with actual facts about experiences I had or what people outside of myself have said. It seems to be working. For now at least.