Ever experienced that unwelcome feeling…fronting that presentation, accepting that award or simply talking to clients, wondering how soon will they realise I’m a fraud?
Welcome to imposter syndrome – a debilitating case of self-doubt that sees otherwise capable people question how qualified they really are.
So how do you handle the imposter in your midst, especially when it’s a concept that dwells inside your own head?
Despite all evidence to the contrary, imposter syndrome is a fairly common phenomenon. It’s the voice that tells even the most successful people that they’re not really worthy of the accolades, accomplishments or achievements they’ve attained.
Instead they might put it down to luck, good timing, or just being in the right place at the right time.
And according to statistics, those who experience this sensation are far from alone in their thoughts. An estimated 70 per cent of successful people will at some point wonder whether they’re deserving of the recognition they’ve achieved.
Imposter syndrome was first identified in the late 1970s by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.
In their paper they theorised women were more prone to feeling like frauds, but over recent years it’s become increasingly apparent gender plays no specific role. Rather it’ more prevalent in certain personality types, and ironically that tends to be those who are predisposed to be more successful.
As Time Magazine recently noted, the crossover between perfectionist and those reporting imposter syndrome is not insignificant.
After all, “perfectionists” set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even those who meet 99 per cent of their goals are likely to feel like failures.
“Any small mistake will make them question their own competence,” Time reflects.
Then there’s those of us who are self-conscious, self-reflective, overly analytical, introverted or feature a slight deficit of self-confidence - all of which have people wondering if they’ve rightly earned the recognition they receive.
So when imposter syndrome comes a-questioning, what should one do?
There’s no point ignoring the elephant-sized imposer dialogue in the room, according to experts. If the self-questioning begins, it’s important to acknowledge it. Noting down when it’s most likely or show it takes shape can also assist.
It’s normal to question, but more extreme to be riddled with self-doubt. So let yourself off the hook by noting no-one (despite their apparent self-assurance) is 100 per cent confident all the time. Then take an outsider’s stroll through the back-catalogue of successes that may have led you to here.
Imposter syndrome is incredibly common, particularly in women who have attained success in their field. Talk it through with your tribe, hear what each other has to say, then lend a little support.
As imposter syndrome closely correlates with perfectionism, experts note it’s critical to see any failures as learning opportunities rather than obstacles.
Finally, give yourself a break. Imposter syndrome can be useful as it causes you to self-reflect and keep reaching for the stars.
And just remember, next time you’re in the audience at a presentation, awards ceremony or client pitch, chances are that self-confident high-achiever you admire shares the same self-doubt and fear of fraud discovery as you.