What is the imposter syndrome?

Have you ever felt like a fraud? Like you don’t quite belong in your workplace? Or that you’re not quite as good at something as you pretend to be? If you’ve ever had these feelings of self-doubt then don’t panic, you’re not alone. This strange feeling is called imposter syndrome (or the imposter phenomenon), and it’s common for everyone from authors to business owners and even brain surgeons! Here’s what it is, who gets it, and how you can overcome imposter syndrome.

What is it?

If you’ve ever felt like you’re winging it, faking it, or a fraud, then it’s likely you’ve experienced imposter syndrome. It’s often described as the inability to internalize personal accomplishments and a recurring fear of being exposed as a fraud. The term first came about in 1978, when two psychologists (Suzanne A. Imes and Pauline R. Clance) used it to describe high-achieving women who believed that they were not intelligent or successful. What it’s important to note is that the feelings are apparently very normal, which is reinforced when you learn that even some of the most successful people in the world get it.


Who gets it?

According to researchers on imposter syndrome, women are far more likely to experience it than men! This could be due to the ingrained feelings that women aren’t necessarily as high-achieving or as successful as their male counterparts. It’s also thought that women are far more likely to blame themselves when something goes wrong, whereas men will usually blame outside factors. While those feelings of ‘faking it’ might seem like they’re totally justified if you’re climbing a career ladder or not quite at the top of your game, even the world’s most successful people get it – you’re definitely not alone. The Chief of the World Health Organization, Dr. Chan, has spoken about feelings of imposter syndrome in the past. “There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know,” Dr. Chan once said. Maya Angelou, one of the best authors on the planet has also talked of her imposter syndrome feelings, saying, “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, feeling like a fraud certainly isn’t reserved to those who aren’t necessarily deemed as experts in their field.

How to overcome imposter syndrome

If you do get these feelings, it can be a good thing. Research has shown that those who are more inept don’t tend to get imposter syndrome because they’re overconfident. They believe they can do something that they can’t and are too incompetent to realize how incompetent they are; called the Dunning-Kruger effect. However, you may want to ease the feeling of imposter syndrome to help you get over that self-doubt. Here are a few tactics you can try out:

Accept you played a role in your success

Acceptance of your success is the key to shaking off imposter syndrome. Opportunities only come to those who work for them or expose themselves to them. Accept that the success you’ve had is something you played a part in and you’ll be far less likely to experience imposter syndrome.


Help others

Instead of focusing on your achievements in work or school, consider genuinely trying to help someone else instead. The feeling you get when you provide real value to someone will shake off any self-doubt.

Stop comparing yourself

In the age of social media, it’s very easy to compare your achievements to those of your friends or acquaintances. However, remember that this is a heavily edited version of their lives. You don’t see their own self-doubt or the struggles they faced to get where they are now. Stop comparing yourself to other people, and you’ll feel far more confidence in yourself.

Imposter syndrome is a rather interesting phenomenon, but it’s one that so many people experience. Now that you know what it is and that so many people are faced with it, even highly successful people, we hope that you’ll be able to feel less like a fraud! And if you still experience it on the regular, remember that this feeling generally means you’re smart enough to always be questioning yourself and not just totally oblivious to a real incompetence!

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