“Good job!” “You inspire me!” “I just know you’re going to do so well!”
These are all complimentary phrases that have been tossed my way for getting a job in my dream field, winning awards or just writing a killer-awesome story.
But no matter how often I hear praise, I will never accept it.
I have imposter syndrome, meaning I constantly feel like a fake, regardless of what I achieve.
Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term “imposter syndrome” or “imposter phenomenon” in 1978 to describe high achievers who refuse to believe they’re intelligent. Instead, the high achievers believe they’ve fooled others into thinking they’re smart and they fear one day people will find out they’re not so smart after all.
People with imposter syndrome may believe they’ve faked their way into something. For example, they might think they got into university because of a mistake made by the admissions office rather than their own hard work and abilities.
Imagine scoring your dream job or receiving a huge award and thinking, “I guess I just lucked out this time, cool,” or “I was just in the right place at the right time,” or “I must have just charmed the employers.” And then thinking, “Well, they’ll find out I don’t deserve this soon enough.”
And it’s pretty common.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Behavioural Science in 2011, 70 per cent of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.
American author and poet Maya Angelou, who won three Grammy Awards and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award, suffered from imposter syndrome too.
“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out,'” Angelou said.
Meryl Streep, Neil Gaiman and Emma Watson are other prominent names who have had to deal with imposter syndrome as well.
“When I was younger, I just did it. I just acted. It was just there. So now when I receive recognition for my acting, I feel incredibly uncomfortable,” Watson said in a 2015 interview with Vogue. “I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an imposter.”
So how do you deal with imposter syndrome? (Asking for a friend).
Part of imposter syndrome is pushing yourself because you feel like you’re not good enough yet. But someday you might be that famous Pulitzer Prize winner you want to be.
For me, feeling inadequate pushes me to strive for my very best. It drives me to work hard, so long as I don’t let it consume me. I dedicate time to improving rather than focusing on the outcome of what I do. So long as I know I’ve done the best I could even if I don’t think it’s good enough yet, I’m happy.
Ultimately, I’ve come to accept at the very least I am not half bad at what I do.
My advice? Fake it ’til you make it. And when you do make it, know you’re not actually faking anything. You’re just that good.