The confidence question: dealing with imposter syndrome

That’s your name up there, isn’t it?

Your name on that website, your name on that profile and your name on that business card.

And it gives you the jitters.

You ask: Does anyone know the truth? Will people find out? Do I look like a joke? Why would anyone listen to me?

You tell yourself you’re a fluke. That your success up to this point has been dumb luck.

Those compliments you received on your writing? The great results from that advertisement you wrote? That was just people being polite.

Yup. That’s that voice.

But you know what? You’re not alone.

That shitty little voice inside your head is actually your greatest enemy.

It’s called imposter syndrome. You may have heard of it, as it’s had a bit of airtime recently. (just do a Google search).

Imposter syndrome was first described in a paper in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, in which they described a person’s belief that their achievements were actually fraudulent, despite external evidence that said the opposite. It’s linked with feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and deception.

Counter-intuitively, it’s commonly linked with high achieving, highly successful people, including those who strive for perfectionism. Common self-defeating inner messages include: I must not fail / This [successful event] was a fluke / Anyone could have done it.

If that’s you, then yeah, I get it.
I’ve been there.

Heck, I’m still there a lot of the time.

But unfortunately, knowing about it, and recognising it, still doesn’t make it go away. It’s just not that easy (darn it).

Here are some ideas for dealing with imposter syndrome that might work for you:

Be aware of your tendency to think this way. Keep a list of your accomplishments – whether that’s a CV, a box of notes, a list, or whatever. Write down your achievements and review them regularly.

Challenge your inner monologue. Be ready to challenge those automatic thoughts with pre-prepared questions, such as: Really? Why do I think that? Is that actually true? Would other people view it that way?

Find someone who will listen and support you. It’s helpful to have someone you trust to encourage you to challenge your doubts and remind you that these thoughts aren’t necessarily true.

Be kind to yourself. Sometimes I think that we’re all a bit hard on ourselves. You wouldn’t think this way of someone else, so why think it of yourself? Cut yourself some slack and say it’s ok.

The thing is, there’s no easy answer to dealing with imposter syndrome. It’s an ongoing journey where you need to try to take control of your thoughts. But acknowledging it for what it is, and having some coping strategies up your sleeve can definitely help.

Here is a quote from the wonderful Anne Lamott, in her equally wonderful bird by bird. While it’s not specifically addressing imposter syndrome, I think it’s still a useful thought bear in mind:

You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft [Anne is talking here about creative writing], where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”

Anne Lamott, bird by bird, in the chapter entitled ‘Broccoli’.

How about you? What strategies do you have for dealing with imposter syndrome?

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