Otherwise known as...Imposter Syndrome. Have you ever thought to yourself while working at your job, or in your area of expertise, “Surely people will realise that I am a fraud, and any day now I’m going to be exposed!” If you can relate to this, then you are one of the estimated 70% of the population who is dealing with Imposter Syndrome.
As a hula hoop performer and instructor, when I get in front of my hula hoop classes or prepare for a cabaret or LED performance, my old friend, that feeling of being a terrible fraud, pops unbidden into my mind, and I wonder what on earth I am doing prancing about hula hooping for a job. Surely someone is going to say it was all a mistake?!I
The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Impostor Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police. - Neil Gaiman
The good news? Well, we are in good company. This is an affliction commonly found in high achievers, perfectionists and those people who are dedicated to giving their very best. Famous Imposters include the writer and civil activist Maya Angelou, writer Neil Gaiman, comedian Tommy Cooper, and actors Kate Winslet and Emma Watson.
Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, “I can’t do this. I’m a fraud”” - Kate Winslet.
Common traits of those afflicted with Imposter Syndrome
- You attribute your achievements to luck, or factors that do not include your hard work and ablility. However, you often attribute your mistakes to lack of competence.
- You frequently think that someone has made a mistake in choosing you, or that you will be exposed as a fraud at work or in your area of expertise.
- You downplay your success - not just to others, being modest - but to yourself. Even if you have worked bloody hard to achieve that success. You could have achieved all the goals on your list -but as soon as you have accomplished them, their importance and significance dwindles and you tell yourself that it’s nothing special/lucky breaks/anyone could do it.
- You are aware of the gaps in your expertise, rather than appreciating all the expertise that you DO have.
- When people message you with a compliment or thanks for a great job - do you read it as often as you would a complaint or bitchy comment? Do you think about it as much? Or do you read the compliments as quickly as possible, feel slightly unconfortable, and then move on (and maybe assume they are just being nice?)
“I’ve written eleven books, but each time I think, “uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” - Maya Angelou
So what can you do about it?
The first step to getting over it is awareness of it in the first place. When you can identify the feelings creeping up on you, you can deal with them.
Realise that you are not alone in this! Share this article and you will be surprised how many people say “This is me!” Remember that even the people who seem like they are totally on the ball, may not know what they are doing a lot of the time. We all make things up as we go along. Talk to people and tell them and get the conversation going.
Write down your achievements. Take a good look at that list and accept that you DID have a big part to play accomplishing them. Go on, look at that list and say out loud “I accomplished all of these things, myself.” Remember your successes. Remember all the hard work and hours you put in. It is not just lucky breaks.
There are very good reasons to deal with Imposter Syndrome and not let it be a part of your life. Many afflictees find that they work so much harder, over-prepare, and obsess over details to prevent people discovering that they are an imposter. This can often lead even more success and acclaim - but then the cycle perpetuates, and the feeling of being an imposter persists.
Not only this, but when you push yourself hard and relentlessly you are in danger of burning out, and of suffering from lack of sleep, stress, anxiety and depression. So fellow imposters, make sure you take care of yourselves!