The Harvard Business Review defines impostor syndrome as follow:
“The impostor syndrome is defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Impostors’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
Who Suffers From the Impostor Syndrome?
Both men and women. Up to 70% of people will go through an impostor syndrome at some point in their career.
The impostor syndrome is mostly experienced by high-achieving people according to the literature, even though I’d tend to temper and say “highly-ambitious” people instead.
The Five Types of “Impostor”
The perfectionist: the perfectionist expects 100% of results to be “the minimum acceptable level of performance”. If 100% is acceptable, 99% is a big “fail”, which leads her not to believe she actually succeeded. These people are the “never enough” results-oriented ones.
The expert: The expert will not feel “good enough” if he doesn’t know all the pieces of information there is to know. Experts study, prepare, pass diplomas, and get certifications to the extreme before “feeling entitled” or ready for a job or a mission.
The natural geniuses: these are the people that are slightly smarter than the norm and to whom everything appears easy. They experience impostor syndrome when they struggle to understand something and must make an effort.
The soloist: The soloist feels she needs to do everything herself and feels like a failure for outsourcing or asking for help. An example would be someone creating a company and taking care of operations, marketing, accounting, finance, HR, customer relations, cleaning the office, feeding the employees, and organizing team buildings.
The superman: the superman feels the need to succeed better than their peers in all areas of life and as a result, push themselves harder to reach their goals. Should someone be better than them, that’d be something they couldn’t handle very well.
Where Does the Impostor Syndrome Come From?
It depends. Culture, education, low self-confidence, low self-esteem, perfectionism, or anxiety are possible causes for the development of impostor syndrome.
The impostor syndrome victim seldom takes pride for the work they have accomplished. They exaggeratedly focus on minor defects or refuse to acknowledge that the success they experience was due to work only (usually citing luck as being a huge part of it).
Faced with unfulfilled expectations, the victim challenges the fact that they are knowledgeable enough for the job.
“Since I can’t do what is expected of me, I shouldn’t be here. Someone more competent should have my responsibilities”.
The feeling of imposture subsequently takes place.
Why Is It a Problem?
For several reasons. First off, since impostor syndrome holders don’t think that what they do is good enough, they work harder than they should which leads to burnout.
Second, impostor syndrome holders tend to lack confidence in their skill set to tackle challenges suitable to their competencies which poisons both their role within society and society itself.
Dumb example: imagine Bill Gates had not felt “legitimate enough” to bring Windows to people.
Even if you hate Microsoft, you have to admit that it would have been a rather big loss for the world.
Third, impostor syndrome holders tend to sabotage themselves. They refuse to evolve since they are not feeling capable to handle their current work. They are afraid to become overwhelmed as the difficulty of their tasks increases.
How to Get Rid of Your Impostor Syndrome
While most websites tell you to “change and recognize your beliefs” as if it was that easy, I’m coming at you with some actual steps you can take to get rid of your impostor syndrome.
Indeed, while most of the literature assumes that the impostor syndrome is based on false narratives, I believe the syndrome to be based on empirical reality.
If an employee believes he is not up to the task, then he probably isn’t and should prepare better.
I don’t think people are doing any wrong thinking they lack skills for their jobs, because this is an excellent opportunity to refine or gain new ones.
Yes, you can use your impostor syndrome as fuel for work and eventually become better than others.
That being said, if your impostor syndrome is eating your life away, find below seven strategies to get rid of and decrease your impostor syndrome.
1. Stop Comparing Yourself (Too Much) to the Best
I know, a classic one, and I’m preaching something I don’t practice here…yet, I still believe you shouldn’t compare yourself too much.
When I was a child (actually, I still do it now), I was comparing myself to my super-smart brother, a habit to which my dad answered “but stop comparing yourself to your brother, he is seven years older than you are”.
That was a great remark!
So I now compare myself to who my brother was 7 years ago, and that doesn’t change much: my life still is pathetic compared to his.
Now, you have two choices when you compare yourself to others: (a) you feel sorry for yourself, give up, and eat ice cream; (b) you set a target, get up your fat ass, and start hustling.
I was miserable, so I chose option “a” first. It made me feel more miserable, so I subsequently chose “b”, which leads us to the second point.
2. Stop Procrastinating
This is something psychologists that don’t experience impostor syndrome yet research it don’t know about.
Remember when you were 15 years old and had to study for an exam? What would you do instead?
Clean your room first? Then read a book you got for your birthday but never opened? Cooking? Wanking? Cleaning the windows? Helping your parents out? Exercising? Anything you had to do in the past but hadn’t done yet?
You did everything you had to do but study. After a day of procrastinating and knowing deep inside of you that you had barely studied half-an-hour, you’d tell your parents how much you worked and subsequently didn’t feel really good about yourself, only to promise that the next day, you’d do better…and then failing on that promise.
If you recognize yourself in this, don’t worry, I did it as well.
I wasn’t feeling legitimate and wouldn’t like myself very much after a day of procrastinating. Everything I had suddenly felt fake, like based on a lie. My part of the deal was to study, and I hadn’t fulfilled it.
When I’d finally get on to work, I’d do the bare minimum. I knew I could do better but I was afraid not to be rewarded equally to the efforts I had invested, which would mean I’d be stupid.
I didn’t want to be stupid. However, not giving my best led to even more guilt, as I knew I was capable of better, which leads to the third point…
3. Look At the Value of Your Work From the Eyes of Others
Sometimes, we feel overly compensated for the work we have done because we know it wasn’t very hard. However, this is the wrong way of looking at the situation.
Imagine a truck driver transporting timber to a factory. The wood will be used to make chairs and tables. When the truck driver arrives at the factory, the director thanks the driver, pays him, and our driver goes back to his city.
Now imagine the same truck driver transporting life-saving medical supplies and food to a city that was the victim of an earthquake.
The job is exactly the same as driving timber: driving. But the value that results out of driving is much higher — because saving lives is more important than making chairs and tables.
As such, when the driver arrives, he is welcome by a crowd crying out of emotions and thanking him.
A few weeks later, the mayor decides to host an official ceremony to decorate the people that made a difference during the catastrophe.
Our driver gets the highest medal.
However, the driver is not at ease. He feels embarrassed about the medal. He is neither a war hero nor a firefighter. To him, there is no difference between driving worthless rocks or driving medical and food supplies. But this isn’t how he should look at it. Driving the medical supplies meant a lot to the mayor and the people, so they reward him greatly. Each job of our truck driver has a different value to the people they are addressed to. As such, he gets paid differently every time, even if to him, it’s always the same amount of effort.
Your work may not be very difficult or rewarding to do. But you should look at it from the point of view of the people that need it.
Our truck driver gets highly compensated when he moved medical supplies because it had a lot of value to the people that needed them.
And this is all that matters.
4. Work Harder
I’m under the impression that psychology looks at impostor syndrome holders as poor hard-working victims, slaves of their own selves that should be protected and forced to rest.
I half-believe in it.
I think many impostor syndrome holders (including myself) achieve a high volume of work to feel less guilty about the important work they are not doing.
As you can see, I titled this section “work harder” instead of “work smarter”. I mean by this that impostor syndrome victims would feel much better about themselves if they were to take up the difficult work first.
Impostor syndrome people don’t like pain, and they know they are avoiding pain by avoiding difficult work they should nonetheless be doing. They feel guilty for that and develop the symptom as a result.
When you work hard and do what matters…when you dive deep into the pain and out of your comfort zone…when you suffer…the impostor syndrome disappears because you know that whatever results you’re getting are a fair payment in comparison to the suffering you had to endure to get them.
So work harder. Suffer a bit more. You’ll be happier about yourself and your impostor syndrome will disappear.
5. Make Your Life More Difficult
Some people go through life providing an extensive amount of effort which satisfies them deeply and gives them a sense of purpose.
However, arrives a time when they reach some sort of ceiling and where their daily tasks become dull and boring.
Incapable to provide any sustainable efforts, they lose their self-worth and sense of self and start believing they shouldn’t get the reward they get because what they do is not difficult enough.
Would you feel comfortable making a million-dollar after working for a day selling ice-cream?
No, because you know what you did is not worth a million dollars.
You’d probably spend the money in two or three months because it is not money you respect. After all, the efforts you made to earn it were disproportionately smaller than the reward.
As such, you don’t feel entitled to the reward.
That’s why I hate birthdays.
It’s “my day”, but I didn’t do anything for it, and feel completely illegitimate.
I found that the solution to this was to make my life more challenging by stepping out of my comfort zone, feel the pain, be rewarded for it, and reap entitlement.
This is also one of the reasons why I like very difficult and bitchy girls.
Somehow, the relationship is more rewarding because it’s more difficult. I don’t like getting things when they’re easy to get. I don’t feel entitled.
I feel like an impostor.
6. Help Someone
If you are the type of person that identifies with what they do and what you do is not satisfactory, you might want to quickly do something that yields results.
For that, helping someone may be the best activity because you derive a sense of self-worth in your helping, and get instantly rewarded with a smile and a big “thank you”.
And also…you helped someone!
While it is not a long-term strategy, it can relieve some pressure for a while.
Some impostor syndromes are related to a lack of entitlement to what one owns or reaps.
When I was a teenager, my impostor syndrome was so big (and my sense of self-worth so low) that I negotiated a salary…down.
From 11€/hour down to 9€/hour. I didn’t feel I was worth the 11€ as I thought it was holding me up to a quality of work I wasn’t capable of providing and it scared me, so I said it was too much.
Instead, I could have simply donated my money to charity to lighten the weight of guilt.
“But doesn’t it seem like a quick fix solution? The belief is still there, and we want to get rid of it”.
I totally agree. While I did not believe I was worth the salary the first week, I believed it the second or third week because I had proven myself I was actually good at my job.
I didn’t know it before and felt indebted to my employer for “getting too much money”.
I wanted room for errors and didn’t feel I had it at the beginning.
Once I was competent though, I didn’t mind getting a fair salary.
This could have been offset by donating 2€/hour to charity.
The Bottom Line
The impostor syndrome is the belief that one’s work isn’t good enough and will eventually be uncovered as a fraud.
It is also the belief that one’s possession or reward exceeds one’s job or effort. This leads to a lack of self-worth and self-sabotage and hurts both the impostor syndrome holders and society.
To solve this issue, one should:
- stop compare themselves with others
- stop procrastinating
- look at the value of their work from the eyes of others
- work harder
- make their life more challenging
- help someone
- donate to charity.
Chances are that you will at some point experience impostor syndrome.
If it stems out of the quality of your work, sincerely ask yourself how you could improve it, and where you lack expertise.
Give yourself the authorization to make mistakes, and work hard to learn what you should.
If it stems out of your rewards, then you can always share these gains with the less fortunate, or help someone. You will feel more entitled to own what you have.
Either way, expressing this syndrome and recognizing you have it is the first step towards lessening its effects.
Objectively assess where the problem is, and if there is a remarkable person you keep on comparing yourself to and that drives you crazy, go get their advice on how to “becoming more like them”.
You’ll be surprised to see how similar you folks already are.
For more content, head to auresnotes.com.