“I don’t deserve this.”
“They’re going to see that I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I’m not an expert, but…”
The Impostor Syndrome.
What is it? Does it affect you? It may, and you may not even realize it. The idea came about in the field of psychology during the 1970s. At the most basic level, if you suffer from Impostor Syndrome, you can’t internalize your accomplishments. You constantly feel like a fraud. No matter how successful you are, you’re worried that someone will eventually figure out that you’re just faking it, or that you got lucky.
And, as it turns out, it is worse when you’re a woman. Many men who are successful in business don’t seem to have a problem acknowledging their accomplishments. In many ways, men have been taught from a young age to embrace their confidence. But for women, it is a different story.
We’re told not to brag. We’re told to stay quiet. Some of us are even told that our accomplishments don’t really matter. So it is no wonder that women trying to succeed in business often feel this sense of not being qualified for the very job they’re doing every day.
And if you think this is just hyperbole, it’s not. Even Sheryl Sandburg, the woman who pioneered the idea of leaning in, has experienced self-image issues when it comes to her success.
“She explained that many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are- impostors with limited skills or abilities.” From Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
So why is it that women feel as though they are not worthy of the same success of their professional, male, counterparts? Let’s take a closer look at the common traits of impostor syndrome and what you can do about it in your own life.
1. “Thank you, but…”: Whenever someone compliments you on your work, do you respond with, “thank you, but it was really easy,” or, “thank you, but I don’t think it’s very good.” Please remember that “Thank you,” is a complete sentence. You do not need to qualify your statements to the person recognizing you for your accomplishments.
2. Stuck on perfection: Perfection goes hand-in-hand with Impostor Syndrome. You may not be willing to allow your work to go out into the world unless it is “perfect.” But perfection is a construct. And if you wait for the perfect time or to have the perfect idea, you may never share your talents with the world.
3. Fear of failure: Another aspect of Impostor Syndrome is to allow your fear to paralyze you. In fact, in many cases it isn’t the fear of failure that will drive you toward inaction, but the fear of success. What will happen if you do succeed? You may be afraid that people will begin to expect too much from you.
4. Focus on the wrong things: Do you often think about the things you haven’t done rather than what you have? This is a typical reaction for someone who feels like they don’t deserve accolades. If you’ve successfully run a conference, it doesn’t matter that you haven’t lost that last 15 pounds. If you’ve run a marathon it doesn’t matter that you haven’t finished your novel yet. Focus on what you have done and that will give you strength to complete the other projects.
How have you felt like a fraud? What are three things you can do today to change your mindset and start accepting your accomplishments?