Dealing with imposter syndrome
Do you have the feeling that you’re only where you are because of mere luck or even because of an error in the system, and not because you are qualified and experienced enough to be there? Do you often feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, and that you’re guessing your way through a situation? And do you constantly fear someone is going to expose you as an imposter? If this is the case, you’re suffering from imposter syndrome. In this blog post, I’m going to explain that imposter syndrome is very common, why it happens to you, and what you could do to deal with it.
What is imposter syndrome?
Despite the name, imposter syndrome is not a disease or abnormality, and not necessarily tied to depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. The syndrome is experienced by persons across gender, race, age and in a range of occupations (not only in academia!). It is most likely more prevalent among members of underrepresented or disadvantaged groups.
So how does it work? People with incredible skills, including Einstein, tend to believe that others are just as skilled as them. That leads to the idea that they don’t deserve opportunity or credit over others. They might also think that their ideas are simply not interesting enough to be shared. While actually, privately, everyone has feelings of self-doubt and believes that no one else struggles with these same feelings – because no one discusses them.
Serious feelings of "imposterism" can prevent a person from sharing their great ideas. Or we do take a position that they we qualified for, but because we feel we aren’t, simply accept being underpaid. Even worse is when we decide that we don’t have the credentials or knowledge to speak publicly, teach, run a lab, or get opportunities, so we don’t even try. We eventually tell ourselves that pursuing these things aren’t that important, basically killing our own dreams.
Don’t let the imposter syndrome stop you from doing what it is you want to do. Here’s how:
Getting passed it
The best way to get yourself passed the imposter syndrome and the voice in your head holding you back is to talk about it. Talking about your feelings of self-doubt is perceived as a scary thing to do, because either your fears of proposing a ‘stupid’ (which it probably isn’t) idea will be confirmed by others or when you do receive positive feedback it fails to ease feelings of fraudulence. Nevertheless, discussing it with a mentor or supervisor who has most likely experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their career can help ease feelings of self-doubt. Talking about it with peers can make you realize that you’re not the only one struggling and that on its own can be a relief.
Recognize the difference between feelings and fact. Realize that you might feel stupid. It happens to everyone from time to time. But separate the feelings from the facts. You’re not actually stupid.
Be conscious of the situation you’re in that might trigger feelings of self-doubt. If you’re the oldest or youngest person in the room, if you’re the first woman or person of color there it is a normal response to being on the receiving end of social stereotypes about competence and intelligence.
Don’t be afraid to say: I do not know. It's not a shame to not to know everything. There will always be an idea or different angle that we did not think of (yet). That does not mean we know nothing. Recognize that you have just as much right to be wrong as the next person and to have an off-day.
No one goes from a stage of being a newbie to a stage of being an expert. That’s why PhD degrees take so long to finish. Look at it as more of a spectrum where you slowly move toward becoming an expert. The goal is to grow and improve. And once you’re an expert, you will continue to learn new things.
Walking the path of growth and improvement can be a bumpy one. It is therefore essential to develop a healthy way of responding to mistakes made. Do not be too hard on yourself and don’t stop trying. Perseverance is looked at as a very positive thing, so no need for self-doubt here. We learn from mistakes and do better next time. Reward yourself for having put in the work to be able to do better next time. You are now that much more qualified and experienced to do it.
Lastly, fake it ‘till you make it still stands. If you wait until you feel confident enough to start putting yourself out there, it might never happen. Courage comes from taking risks and confidence is something that is build. Therefore, faking it can help to push through, make decisions and try something new. Faking it really means cheating yourself, not others. You shouldn’t lie about having done things you never did before, but if you do have experience in something you yourself are simply not too confident about it is ok to tell others you have that experience and are therefore qualified to do it again.
Always remember: you have talent, you are capable and you belong.
What are your experiences with imposter syndrome? Do you have advice on how to deal with feelings of self-doubt? Let us know in the comments below or connect with us on social media.