When Imposter Syndrome Has You Second-Guessing if You’re Good Enough

woman sitting at a desk studying

From the outside, it looks as though successful, high-achieving people have it all. They have the respect of their peers, achieved awards and accolades, and reached a certain level of financial success —or are firmly on their way there.

But on the inside, these same people may lack self-confidence or feel shy about acknowledging their successes and achievements. 

How does this happen? Why do some people who have worked hard and achieved so much feel like they shouldn’t be where they are and suffer from imposter syndrome?

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is something that genuinely affects people, particularly minorities and women.

In a nutshell, imposter syndrome causes people who have achieved a particular goal, position, milestone, etc., to feel as though they somehow don’t deserve it. They think they somehow “landed” in their position due to luck or some external force. They don’t feel like they belong where they are or have a difficult time taking credit for their achievements. 

For example, they feel like the tests they passed were some kind of fluke, that they just got lucky, or that they got the promotion or position because someone felt sorry for them or thought more highly of them than they should.

They just can’t believe that they got where they are based on the merit of their performance, talent, or hard work. 

What’s worse, imposter syndrome makes them feel as though they may be “found out” at any moment. That somehow, their peers or supervisors will realize that they don’t belong where they are, and they will be humiliated or unable to live up to the expectation.

How Common Is Imposter Syndrome?

It’s difficult to quantify the prevalence of imposter syndrome since many people never report it or seek help from it. However, according to the national institute of mental health, 9% of people will experience crippling imposter syndrome. Like so many other conditions, there seems to be a spectrum of severity. For some, the feelings of being an imposter lead to anxiety, depression, and self-sabotage. 

For many, the feelings won’t necessarily be debilitating but can hold them back from making job changes and other life decisions. The feelings of imposter syndrome can bleed over into other areas of life, affecting relationships and the ability to enjoy their professional and personal life.

According to some studies, women are more likely to have imposter syndrome than men, and how they handle it differs as well. 

Famous People Who Have Imposter Syndrome

You would think that fame and fortune makes a person immune to imposter syndrome, but that’s not at all the case. When someone is afflicted with that feeling of being an imposter, it doesn’t matter how much money they have, how many awards they get, how many records they sell, or even how much their fans love them.

Some famous people who have struggled with imposter syndrome include Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, singer, actor, and songwriter Lady Gaga, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and actor Tom Hanks. Imposter syndrome isn’t about how the world sees us; it’s about how we see ourselves.

How Does Imposter Syndrome Hold You Back?

Sadly, successful people struggle with imposter syndrome without getting help. There are so many ways imposter syndrome can hold you back.

For example, someone with imposter syndrome may decide not to pursue further education, ask for a promotion, or avoid taking a job with more responsibility.

In extreme cases, a person battling imposter syndrome may actively engage in self-sabotaging behaviors that risk their education or career. They may hold back at work for fear of attracting too much attention, coming from fear of being exposed as a fraud.

How To Tell If You Have Imposter Syndrome

If you are struggling with apprehension about your education and career, you may wonder if imposter syndrome applies to you. Remember, everyone occasionally feels this way, especially in new situations. For example, if you apply for and get a job with more responsibility or require a new skill set, you may have an adjustment period where you feel underqualified or like you bit off more than you could chew.

You may worry that you won’t ever “get it” or that you’ll have to step down, or worse yet, that any minute you might get fired when they realize they made a mistake hiring you. 

Those feelings of imposter syndrome usually pass after you’ve become accustomed to your new position, received training, and become more comfortable with your new responsibilities. But if that’s not the case, then maybe it’s time for some tools to help you overcome those feelings.

With imposter syndrome, it’s too hard to just get over it. Instead, you may obsess over any tiny mistakes you make, and you may feel incapable of doing your job, despite getting good feedback from superiors or colleagues.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you find it difficult to accept compliments related to your performance at work or school?
  • Do you feel like the only reason you got your job or test scores was because you got lucky, or perhaps someone put in a good word?
  • Do you feel like you got where you are by mistake?
  • Do you feel unqualified to do your job, even though you technically possess all of the qualifications?
  • Do you feel like any minute you could be “found out” and humiliated or fired?
  • Do you feel that any mistake you make proves you are an imposter?
  • Do these feelings interfere with your ability to enjoy your work or life outside of work?

If you answered yes to some or all of those questions, you might be struggling with imposter syndrome. 

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

If imposter syndrome is holding you back in life, it may be time to enlist the help of a coach or therapist to work through the issues causing these feelings of inadequacy. There are ways to overcome imposter syndrome so that you can feel good about your achievements and feel safe striving for bigger and better things in a healthy way.

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