The real question I want to ask is, do you feel like an imposter? Imposter syndrome is a feeling, despite finding success and/or respect from others, that you are somehow fooling them and that one of these days they’re going to find out that you’re not that smart, or gifted, or talented. It often occurs when someone is brought up with the pressure of achieving excellence, whether that is in academics, sports, art or whatever. This pressure may have come from parents, teachers, coaches, or can even be self-imposed. It’s also that the individual knows that there is still so much more they could know. As Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” (Unfortunately, those who think they know it all, don’t suffer from imposter syndrome.) It is also associated with those that are perfectionists, people who are always seeking to be better/do better. The syndrome creates anxiety in the person experiencing it which can hold them back from achieving even more (not to mention how constant anxiety can be detrimental to your health).
Let me be frank with you (arrgh, see, already an imposter)… Let me be Mark with you. 😉 Seriously, though, I’ve felt like an imposter off and on throughout my life. One example that stands out in my mind is when I served on a national personal trainer exam committee and, while I am very knowledgable in many areas of our industry, much of what I know has been self-taught. I only hold a BS in physical education/kinesiology, whereas my peers on this committee held either a MS or a PhD. I would always work extra hard to prove to myself that I earned my place on the committee. I know that not having my Masters degree has always made me feel a little sub-standard when I compare myself to my peers. I also continually ask myself, with so much to know, how can I possibly know enough?”
The imposter syndrome is not a rational feeling. Most of those that are effected by this have worked very hard to get to where they are and, more often than not, are well deserving of their achievements and acclaim. Celebrated author, poet, activist, Maya Angelou once said: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”
So, how do we overcome feeling like an imposter? Here are some possible ideas on it.
- Own your success. Even those people who did get a “lucky” break worked hard to put themselves in the position to be available for that opportunity. Tell yourself that you deserve your success. You don’t have to repeat daily affirmations like Stuart Smalley, “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” (unless, of course, that helps), but know that you have done the work to bring yourself to where you are.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Often, when we compare, we look at our weaknesses compared to others’ strengths. Not fair. *side note, did you know that the top colleges have high drop out rates. That’s because, even though everyone has to be exceptional just to get in, the smart people are comparing themselves to the super smart people and then feel inferior, like they don’t belong there.
- Let go of the perfectionism. Maybe you don’t have all of the answers. You don’t need to. Ask yourself instead, do you have enough to deliver value?
- Continue to put yourself out there and accept new challenges. Realize that very few people are as driven as you can be, which means that you have the capacity to make someone’s world (or maybe the world) a better place. Keep on keeping on.
Some of the most successful people in every field have suffered from imposter syndrome, so you are in good company. But, you have to learn to overcome that self-doubt if want to enjoy your success (and life) more.