It’s only a matter of time before someone discovers that you're not all you're cracked up to be. The moment when they realise you are fumbling around in the dark with your fingers crossed is just around the corner. You have only arrived at where you are through sheer luck or because someone, somewhere made a terrible mistake. Could this be written about you? You may be one of millions of people, unknowingly suffering from Imposter Syndrome, a poisonous and virulent form of self-doubt that afflicts even the most successful and self-assured amongst us.
It affects men and women
A couple of clinical psychologists in the US coined the term in the 70's as a result of their research into immensely clever women who secretly feared they were not as talented as people thought. It can afflict men and women and can hit at any time, but most likely strikes at times of change and transition: a new role, promotion, starting a business.
Driving you on
The fear of being found out often drives people to work harder, compete more and become even more conscientious, meaning more success, more promotions and triggering increasing feelings of being a fraud.
And when it’s not pushing people to work like maniacs, it firmly holds them back: not challenging in case colleagues spot ineptness, refusing help because it could be seen as a sign of weakness. We obsess about others’ brilliance and side-line our own successes. We are fixated on our shortcomings.
Top tips for managing it
1. Learning to appreciate success: writing down achievements on a daily basis. As you break the habit of focusing on weaknesses you become more used to acknowledging - and embracing - achievements.
2. Learning from mistakes then letting them go: listing things that you feel haven’t gone well and writing down how you could have improved. Cross them off the list and move on.
3. Being kinder to yourself: putting immense pressure on yourself to achieve unrealistic goals at work - perhaps driven by a desire to compete with a colleague? Try drawing up a targeted action plan that plays to your strengths. By breaking it down into more specific and detailed tasks you will progress through it more easily and feel more achieved.
4. Stop comparing yourself unfavourably to others: As you learn to feel better about your own successes, it will help with the feelings of inadequacy you have when you see colleagues succeeding.
5. Embrace the competition and learn from them.
Sometimes you just need to walk it. Visualise success and behave like the person you want to be. However hapless you may feel on the inside, sometimes people really don’t see it because they’re too busy worrying about you spotting their own incompetence…