Have you ever felt you are about to be ‘found out?’ That someone will finally see you are really not good at your job, and everyone will ‘finally know?’ Or that it is only a matter of time before people figure out you are a fraud? If you’ve ever felt like this, you might be experiencing Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome (also known as Impostor phenomenon, Impostorism, Fraud syndrome, or the Impostor Experience) is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’ You might have prepared well for a presentation, for example, learned and rehearsed your materials, psyched yourself up, stayed positive, tried to relax – only to have this nagging internal voice telling you ‘you’re not good enough and you’re going to fail miserably.’
Einstein called himself an ‘involuntary swindler’. Maya Angelou said she didn’t feel she had earned her accomplishments. John Steinbeck wrote in his 1938 diary, “I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.” When speaking at a Women in Entertainment Power 100 event, where she was the guest of honour, Jodie Foster said, ”I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing.” In ‘An Audience with Adele’ shown on ITV in November, the multi-millionaire, super successful singer admitted that when she agreed to headline Glastonbury in 2016 she was absolutely terrified ‘because I’ve got imposter syndrome’.
You might feel like you’re not good enough as a result of:
- Educational achievements – you think you got your qualifications from luck, or you are not as well educated as others,
- Socio-economic status – you think your background means you shouldn’t be at a prestigious school, college, or workplace. Maybe you feel your house or car isn’t nice enough or big enough,
- Your family – you think your parents or family are different from those of others,
- Intelligence – you think you are not as intelligent as everyone else.
So many of my clients have experienced Imposter Syndrome I have come to believe it should be recognised in the school curriculum and taught as a normal part of what it means to be human. I think it is one of the main reasons people report not having ‘confidence.’ The truth is, calling it Imposter ‘Syndrome’ may be a misnomer. It is so common among people it is not so much a syndrome as it is universal.
In her TedEd talk, Elizabeth Cox talks about Pluralistic Ignorance. This is the idea we doubt ourselves privately, and we believe we are alone in feeling this way about ourselves. As it is impossible to know how our peers are coping with tasks mentally or emotionally, or whether they are also doubting themselves, there’s no easy way to dismiss the idea we are the only ones who feel less capable!
True Imposters Don’t Suffer Imposter Syndrome
If you experience Imposter Syndrome, take some comfort. Not only are you not alone, but evidence suggests that Imposter Syndrome links to success, and those who don’t suffer from it are more likely to actually be frauds. Why? People with Imposter Syndrome tend to be perfectionists and achievers as described above. They over-analyse and worry about things, which means they tend to try hard, prepare more, put in more effort. People who don’t experience Imposter Syndrome might be suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which simply means they cannot recognise their own incompetence!
Learn more about Imposter Syndrome in Cheryl Isaacs new book ‘Confidence Shmonfidence: Why Confidence is A Myth and How to Be Super Successful Without It’ – being released December 2021.