How to Effectively Deal With Your Impostor Syndrome
Tl;dr: don’t compare yourself to others; stop procrastinating; work harder; make your life more difficult; help someone.
The impostor syndrome is the belief that one is not qualified, worthy, legitimate, or deserving enough to occupy a certain position with the fear of one day be exposed to the world as a “fraud”.
Alternatively, it is also the belief to be excessively rewarded, which leads to feelings of imposture.
“Victims” of the impostor syndrome attribute their success to luck, other people, or remain persuaded that no one understands that their victories and results are a bunch of lies taken for something they are not by the externals.
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?
The impostor syndrome comes from an internal belief that one’s self-worth or reward should equal work, performance and competence, and knowledge.
The impostor syndrome holder develops her syndrome by comparing her work to her peers’, asking herself these three questions: “Have I worked well enough compared to what was asked”?; “Have I performed at least as high/better than my peers”?, “Do I know as much as the best people?”
Obviously, except one is incredibly smart with high-energy, answering these questions with a daily “yes” is unlikely to be possible.
Faced with unfulfilled expectations, the victim develops an impostor syndrome, challenging the fact that he is knowledgeable enough.
“Since I can’t do what is expected of me, I shouldn’t be here and leave my responsibilities to someone more competent”.
The impostor syndrome holder subsequently looks for signs that he is incompetent, and the whole thing feeds on itself like a vicious circle.
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, that 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 as the difficulty of their tasks increases.
Let’s take an example.
When I was a teenager, I wanted to become an actor and would go to auditions. The problem is that I had been told I was good and I believed it.
However, I didn’t want my beliefs to be proven wrong through empirical results, so I would only work a minimum before an audition to have an excuse if I failed (“I just didn’t work enough”) while still getting the chances to get it.
Should I succeed though, I’d think “this isn’t normal, some people worked much more than I did, I shouldn’t be here”.
I was screwed, no matter what I did.
That’s also the reason why I never applied to acting school.
I didn’t think I could have handled to be turned down.
How to Get Rid of the 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 decrease your impostor syndrome.
Indeed, as 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 want to tell people they are wrong to think about their lack of skills, because this is an excellent occasion to gain new ones.
Yes, you can use your impostor syndrome as fuel for work and eventually become better than others.
Find below how 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 (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 7 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, eat ice-cream and masturbate; (b) you set a target, get up your fat ass, and start hustling.
I was miserable, so I chose the option “a” first. It made me feel more miserable, so I subsequently chose “b”, which leads 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? “Insert something you had to do but never did of your choice here”?
You were a little bitch, weren’t ya?
You did everything you had to do but study and 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 it was you, don’t worry, it was me too, and an impostor syndrome would develop after a day of procrastinating when, looking at my food on my plate, I’d think about people living in dangerous slums, barely able to afford something to eat.
I wouldn’t feel really legitimate and wouldn’t like myself very much either.
I knew I wasn’t working hard. Well, I wasn’t really working either.
I could do better than I did, but the work I provided was sufficient.
Nonetheless, this endless procrastinating didn’t play well on my psyche, which leads to the third point…
3. 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 me)
work hard achieve a high volume of work to feel less guilty about the important work they are not doing.
This article is a prime example.
Right now, I should be finishing my application for an internship at the EU, look for a job, and finish my second online job, but I’m not.
I’m writing an article about the impostor syndrome, and you can be damn sure I’ll spend all the time in the world to make slick-looking content instead of doing what matters.
As you can see, I titled this section “work harder” instead of “work smarter”.
While finishing an internship application is not hard per se, it is painful because it is extremely boring and yields very low results.
The reward I’ll get from filling up the application will be something like that:
Thank you for your application. As you can understand, there were many candidates for the position and sadly, not only your grades are craps, but the university you attended is crap as well, so we concluded that you did not have the mental capacities to join our institution.
Go f*** yourself.
Sincerely yours, HR service.
I’m getting off-topic.
My second job at the university is also very boring and repetitive. And looking for a job gives me anxiety because I’m qualified for none of them.
So instead of doing what I should, I’m procrastinating by working on something low on the priority list, but doing it extremely well so that I feel less guilty about not doing what I should be doing.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you develop a perfect impostor syndrome.
So, work harder, as in, “do what is hard first”, hard meaning “yielding pain”. Don’t start with what yields pleasure.
4. 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.
That may be my most severe case of impostor syndrome. 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.
5. 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 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 quite 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.
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 look into stopping to compare the self with others, stop procrastinating, work harder, make life more difficult, help someone or donate to charity.
Chances are that you will at some point experience impostor syndrome.
If it is related to the quality of your work, sincerely ask yourself how you could improve it, and where you lack expertise.
Allow the possibility for you to make mistakes, and work hard to learn what you should.
If this is related to what you’re getting, then you can always share these gains with the less fortunate, or help someone to feel more entitled to 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.