Facing Imposter Syndrome
Ever been writing an article or blog post or script or song and thought “anyone could do this. Nothing about what I have to say is unique?” If you’ve ever been working on anything and thought that all your accomplishments are just luck, and you don’t actually deserve the things you’ve worked hard for, know that you aren’t alone. Self-doubt is an incredibly common feeling and you by no means need to be depressed to have ever felt it. We all feel trepidation, fear, or a lack of confidence sometimes. This can occur in any aspect of life, but when this doubt is particularly focused on your career, especially if you work in a creative field, it is called Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities, feeling like a fraud, and finding it difficult to accept any form of recognition. This is a completely natural line of thought, but when it gets to be so much that you stop taking any chances, or stop working altogether, it becomes an issue.
SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES
If you aren’t sure you’ve experienced Imposter Syndrome, there are common behaviors that often lead to, or are caused by, Imposter Syndrome that are easier to identify. Perfectionism is one of the most typical, as the idea of never quite reaching the ridiculously high expectations you set for yourself is a perfect accompaniment to feeling like a fraud. A few other common behaviors might be, what Dr. Valerie Young (expert on the subject) would call, “Superman” and “Soloist” behavior. The Superman feels they need to constantly prove themselves to their peers and so works harder and longer than everyone (often sacrificing free time and even sleep) just to prove to themselves they aren’t a fraud. The Soloist can be similar, but their behavior is driven by an aversion to assistance. They feel that asking for help reveals their phoniness and so insist on doing everything themselves. Two more behaviors that may be less common, or perhaps less noticeable, are that of the “Expert” and the “Natural Genius.” In order to combat their sense of inadequacy, the Expert feels they need to be the smartest person in the room, or have the most knowledge about a topic. Because experts need this type of validation, they’ll often procrastinate doing something until they feel they’re “learned” enough about that thing. The Natural Genius can be similar to the perfectionist, except they measure themselves not just on high expectations, but on speed and ease. If a project or assignment doesn’t come easy to a Natural Genius or can’t be accomplished quickly, they feel like a fake.
Knowing and understanding these behaviors isn’t only a good way to identify your Imposter Syndrome, but a good way to combat it as well. Imposter Syndrome can be an obtuse or perplexing thing to wrap your head around. Determining which behavior, or behaviors, you exhibit and focusing on that, can be a simpler way to go about battling your Imposter Syndrome.
PASSIONATE OR PROBLEMATIC
An issue you may already be thinking about is the fact that all of those behaviors also occur when you simply love your job, or are, you know, a good worker. Learning a lot about your subject, or working late nights, or giving yourself high expectations can all mean that you’re motivated and fulfilled. So how do you tell the difference between the positive and the negative versions of those behaviors? One detail to think about is intensity. How intense or extreme are these behaviors? Are your expectations so high that you’ll never reach them? Are you pulling all-nighters a couple times a month, or a couple times a week? If your behaviors seem too extreme, then you might be doing them for the wrong reasons. The other detail to focus on is audience. Who are you doing this for? Are you taking lots of courses on a specific subject because you’re genuinely interested, or so that when people ask, you’re the first one to raise your hand? Are you working independently because you have a specific vision for the work, or because you don’t want to be seen asking for help?
FOCUS ON THE PROCESS
Imposter Syndrome can take on another form as well. This largely depends on the type of job one has, but for some people, Imposter Syndrome comes from the fact that their work or career has had no impact or made no difference in the world. This doesn’t only happen to people working at a charity. We all want to leave some lasting impression. It only makes sense that you’d want the career you’ve spent the majority of your life pursuing to make some difference, however small. The problem here is that you could go around to all your clients and ask them what difference you’ve made in their life. No matter what they say, it would never be quite enough to make you feel validated (and is also incredibly desperate, so please don’t do that). The way to fight this type of Imposter Syndrome is very much the same way you’d fight any other kind: focus on the work. Don’t think about the potential change you make or what your peers are thinking of you. This doesn’t mean you should work selfishly, it just means that your love of your craft or your career should be your motivation rather than the opinions of others. Those are impossible to control.
All this being said, it is important to be hard on yourself sometimes. Pushing yourself to stay educated, work hard, and meet expectations is key to many forms of achievement. The important thing to remember though, is when you fail (as we all do) don’t think of yourself as a phony, or as undeserving of what you’ve worked for. Think of yourself as a human being who sometimes needs help, or falls short, or doesn’t know everything. We are all a work in progress.