This article will show you how the impostor syndrome works and what you can do to considerably decrease its impact on your life.
This article was written in 2020. It has been changed many times since. Overall, the impostor syndrome is not supposed to happen. Before reading the article, please consider a minute if you:
- Eat well
- Sleep well
- Exercise well
- Have a nice social life
- Don’t watch porn
If you’re missing one of these, fix it. Your syndrome will likely disappear afterward.
The Harvard Business Review defines impostor syndrome as follows:
“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 the 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 “Impostors”
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 him not to believe she 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 needs to do everything himself 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 cat, and organizing team buildings.
The superman: the superman feels the need to succeed better than his peers in all areas of life and as a result, push harder to reach his goals. No one should be better than him.
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 victims seldom take pride in the work they have accomplished. They 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, they doubt 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.
Tom Hanks has admitted to suffering from impostor syndrome.
How to Get Rid of Your Impostor Syndrome
While most websites tell you to “change your beliefs” (as if it was that easy) I’m coming at you with practical knowledge.
Most of the literature assumes that the impostor syndrome is based on false narratives.
I believe the opposite.
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 anything 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.
Why don’t you think you are qualified?
Write it down, get the knowledge you need, and move forward.
That being said, if your problem is irrational, find below seven strategies to get rid of 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, 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 (and briefly go back to option “a” from time to time).
2. Stop Procrastinating
Psychologists that don’t experience impostor syndrome yet research it don’t know about this.
Remember when you were 15 years old and had to study for an exam? What would you do instead?
Clean your room? Then read a book you got for your birthday 3 years ago but never opened? Cooking? Wanking? Cleaning the windows? Helping your parents out? Exercising?
You did everything you had to do but study., didn’t you?!
After a day of procrastinating and knowing deep inside that you had barely studied half an hour, you’d pat yourself on the back, tell your parents how much you worked and then….wouldn’t feel really good, only to promise that the next day, you’d do better.
If you recognize yourself in this, don’t worry. It describes 99% of people on this planet.
Procrastination would make me hate myself. Everything I had ever received felt based on a lie. My part of the deal was to study, and I hadn’t fulfilled it. I didn’t deserve what I had.
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 up to the tasks and find out I was stupid. So I did the bare minimum. If I failed, I could use the excuse that I had not worked.
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.
In a capitalist society, the value of your work cannot be judged by yourself, but by others.
Imagine a truck driver transporting timber to a factory that makes chairs and tables.
Now imagine the same truck driver transporting life-saving medical supplies and food to a city victim of an earthquake.
Is the job different? No. And yet, our driver gets the highest medal of honor as a thank for his work during the catastrophe.
To him, there is no difference between driving worthless rocks or driving medical and food supplies.
But he is not qualified to judge the value of his work.
Despite that there is no difference between driving rocks or medical supplies, there is a difference in the value of the service rendered.
Your work may not be very difficult or rewarding to do. Your point of view is the wrong point of view.
All that matters is the people your work serves.
4. Work Harder
I’m under the impression that psychology victimizes to the extreme people with impostor syndrome.
I don’t think it’s fair.
And I also think a huge part of the impostor syndrome comes from there.
Impostor syndrome victims would feel better about themselves if they did what they should do, instead of avoiding it (which comes back to procrastination).
Impostor syndrome people don’t like pain. They know they are avoiding it by avoiding difficult work they should 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 fair payment in comparison to the suffering you have endured.
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 sense of purpose.
However, at some point, they reach some sort of ceiling and their daily tasks become dull and boring.
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 compared to what they get.
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. The efforts you made to earn it were disproportionately smaller than the reward.
So, 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 the reward.
This is also one of the reasons why I like 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 need to find something else that’s meaningful.
Helping someone is best for that, as we are wired to derive satisfaction out of doing it.
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 regarding the size of the reward (people guilty for making too much money).
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 to provide. It scared me, so I said my salary was too high.
Instead, I could have donated my money to charity to lighten the weight of guilt.
8. Read Fooled by Randomness
The premise of this book is simple. Most of what happens, happens randomly. You likely didn’t get your partner nor your job because of x or y. You got them out of randomness.
My impostor syndrome mainly stemmed from the fact that I didn’t think I deserved what I had because there were likely better people than me that should have occupied my position.
I didn’t feel it was fair, nor did I feel legitimate.
But the world is not fair. It never has been. You almost never get what you deserve – just what randomness, chance, enables you to get.
This idea completely absolved me from my impostor syndrome. If I was where I was out of luck…why should I feel illegitimate?
Some, after all, were born in much better positions than mine. They don’t seem to care about it.
The Bottom Line
The impostor syndrome is the belief that one’s work isn’t good enough and that one will eventually be uncovered as a fraud.
It is also the belief that one’s possession or reward exceeds is disproportionally high. This leads to a lack of self-worth and self-sabotage and hurts everyone.
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.
- understand that life is more random than meritocratic
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.
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