Do you ever feel like you don’t deserve your accomplishments? Like you’re a fraud and any moment now, someone will find out? You’re not alone.
Almost 82% of people experience impostor phenomenon, also known as impostor syndrome or impostor experience, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in 2020. The experience of these emotions may lead to elevated levels of anxiety and depression, decreased willingness to take risks in one’s profession, and ultimately, career burnout.
Who Suffers From Imposter Syndrome?
Millions of individuals, including highly accomplished celebrities, athletes, and executives, have been troubled by persistent self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. Renowned personalities such as Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou and actress Meryl Streep have shared their struggles with imposter syndrome and the fear of being exposed as a fraud. Sheryl Sandberg, Emma Watson, Kate Winslet, Michelle Pfeifer and many others have openly acknowledged similar sentiments.
While studies indicate that both men and women experience imposter syndrome, women are more prone to its effects. According to Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, “being female means you and your work automatically stand a greater chance of being ignored, discounted, trivialized, devalued, or otherwise taken less seriously than a man’s.” It is, therefore, understandable that more women may question their abilities and feel inferior.
Impostor syndrome is particularly prevalent among individuals with underrepresented identities, such as BIPOC individuals who work or study in predominantly White environments and often struggle with feelings of not belonging or that they’re only there due to a token gesture or pity. Members of the nonbinary and Trans community also experience impostor phenomenon, frequently feeling like they’re not ‘woman’ or ‘man’ enough and fearing that the world won’t see them as they truly are.
It’s Not All In Your Head: Systemic Barriers
While individuals can take steps to overcome impostor feelings, it’s also necessary to address systemic issues that may play a significant role, and for these institutions to make changes to promote equity and inclusion in academic and workplace environments.
For instance, institutions can foster a culture of inclusion, where everyone feels valued and supported, and their contributions are recognized and celebrated. Institutions can also promote diversity and inclusivity by hiring and promoting individuals from diverse backgrounds, creating safe spaces for individuals to share their experiences, and offering training to address bias and stereotyping.
Moreover, institutions can work to create a supportive learning environment that acknowledges the complexity of learning and growth. This involves providing resources such as mentorship programs, counseling services, and workshops on imposter phenomenon, and supporting individuals in identifying their strengths and developing their skills.
7 Steps to help you refocus and get rid of Imposter Syndrome
- Learn the facts: Tackle the mental distortions that contribute to these feelings by taking a step back to look at the bigger context. Consider how far you’ve come and the work, education, and accomplishments that have led you to your current role. Listen to your internal dialogue and ask yourself how you would speak to a friend who minimizes their own accomplishments.
- Share your feelings: Enlist others to help combat impostor feelings by sharing your thoughts and feelings with trusted people (who are not work colleagues). Seek out spaces and people that make you feel empowered and who provide support, validation, and empathy for navigating impostor syndrome.
- Celebrate your successes: Don’t brush off your accomplishments. Take time to pat yourself on the back. Notice how you respond when someone congratulates or compliments you and then try to speak (and think) more positively about yourself. Keep concrete reminders of your successes, such as positive feedback emails.
- Release perfectionism: According to Vanderlan, you don’t necessarily have to lower your expectations, but shifting your perspective on success can help you recognize and acknowledge your achievements. Instead of striving for perfection, she suggests placing emphasis on your growth and progress; focus on progress over perfection and reframe failures (either real or imagined) as opportunities to learn.
- Cultivate self-compassion: Practicing self-compassion by using mindfulness to shift from an external source of self-worth to an internal one can assist in releasing perfectionism. It is beneficial to notice when you experience impostor feelings and how you react to them. Remind yourself that your accomplishments aren’t tied to your value.
- Share your failures: Sharing one’s failures in a group can provide a more accurate picture of the challenges that others are facing. Sharing the learning moments in those failures can be a helpful organizational culture practice.
- Accept it:Impostor feelings can arise any time, especially if the people you’re surrounded by have different achievements. Recognize that even if you’re making progress, you might be in a position next year where these feelings come up again.