Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, therapist, or any other form of medical professional. What I have written cannot be replaced for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All views and opinions are my own and they have been formed through personal experiences, unless explicitly stated.
If you are reading these words, then it is evident of the fact that you have clicked into this blog post because you are interested in the topic of Impostor Syndrome. Or perhaps it is because of an accidental misclick. Regardless of the actual reason, I think that it would be helpful to offer you a basic definition of what Impostor Syndrome is before I begin to offer you some advice.
To paraphrase Robert Duff, a clinical psychologist who runs The Hardcore Self-Help Podcast with Duff, he defines Impostor Syndrome as the feeling that an individual may experience when they think that they do not deserve to be here. “Here” is relative to your current situation, it can be your workplace, your place of learning, or even a social group that you are a part of.
If you have ever experienced this feeling, know that you are not alone. From a personal standpoint I can absolutely relate. Here are a couple of examples. On particularly bad days, I have thoughts about how it is only a matter of time before somebody finds out that I do not really belong here (at UBC). This train of thought also bleeds into my workplace sometimes. Occasionally, I will think “Oh boy, tomorrow is the day that my supervisors find out that I am not actually cut out for this job!”.
According to Robert Duff, these thoughts are actually quite common amongst the general population. However, it is important to note that Impostor Syndrome is felt disproportionately amongst women and people of colour. Well, what do you know! I belong to both categories.
These thoughts and feelings are often unhelpful and self-deprecating, so what can we do about them?
To paraphrase Mike Cannon-Brookes (CEO of Atlassian) from his Ted Talk on How You Can Use Impostor Syndrome to Your Benefit, he states that the feeling of Impostor Syndrome will never go away no matter what you achieve or how successful you become. However, in his personal experience, he has noticed that the most successful people in his life will not let the Impostor Syndrome overwhelm them and get in the way of bettering themselves. Specifically, they use that sentiment to drive them to ask questions, to challenge their own assumptions and thoughts, and to know when they need to ask for help.
Robert Duff also brings up a great point in his podcast, he says that we often let negative events impact us far greater than positive events of the same value. This is known as the negativity bias. Negativity bias also effects the way that we perceive ourselves. We often attribute the successes and achievements in our lives to having good luck. However, when an unfortunate incident occurs, we often attribute that to our own incompetence or failure to perform adequately. It is important to understand that the negative things that occur in life are just as likely to be circumstantial. Ultimately, the way that we perceive our failures shows us that we are often too hard on ourselves but acknowledging this issue is a great first step to helping us manage our Impostor Syndrome more effectively.
Here are a few more tips from Robert Duff to help you manage your feelings.
- Understand and convince yourself that you do belong. If you were not doing your job adequately or if you were not supposed to be somewhere, it is likely that someone would have already told you. If you believe that other people do belong, then have faith in those same people surrounding you.
- Encourage and congratulate yourself like how you would a good friend. Typically, we treat our good friends better than we treat ourselves, we often congratulate them on their achievements and reassure them when they feel down.
- Stop comparing yourself to other people or think that other people may deserve something more. Try to understand that it is not a good mentality to constantly try to be better than others. Always strive to be the best version of yourself.
- Go ask for feedback. If you are still having doubts about your own ability, ask for feedback from someone that you trust. Accept any constructive feedback and act on them. Pay attention to the positive feedback as well, try to understand that most people do not feel the need to share positive feedback unless it were true.
- Address your insecurity. Speaking from personal experience, I have found that sometimes addressing your insecurity can you help boost your self-confidence. For example, if you have been feeling particularly self-conscious about your appearance lately, figure out if there is something you can do for yourself. It can be as simple as getting a trim!
Disclaimer: I do not think that self-confidence is grounded in appearances, but I have found that this is a useful strategy sometimes.
- Let yourself wallow in your emotions for a while. Although this may sound counterintuitive to improving your self-esteem, sometimes all it takes is a good night’s sleep for me to feel better about my circumstances.
I hope that some of these tips will work out for you. It is completely fine if they do not because everyone has a different way of overcoming their Impostor Syndrome. Good luck!
Cannon-Brookes, Mike. (2017 June). How You Can Use Impostor Syndrome to Your Benefit [Video]. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/mike_cannon_brookes_how_you_can_use_impostor_syndrome_to_your_benefit/transcript?language=en
Duff, Robert. (Host). (2019, November 21). Episode 185: All About Impostor Syndrome [Audio podcast episode]. In The Hardcore Self-Help Podcast with Duff. Duff the Psych. https://hardcoreselfhelp.libsyn.com/episode-185-all-about-impostor-syndrome