You’ve accomplished more in the past year than most people do in a decade or more. You’ve finally begun to reap the rewards of your persistence and dedication. Others in your field see you as one of the best in the business. You work hard and refuse to settle in the humdrum and safety of mediocrity. You’re a high achiever, but there’s a problem.
Can’t Shake Feeling Like a Fraud
I’m a poser and, soon, everyone will know it. You can’t seem to shake the nagging feeling that others will ‘find you out’ and realize that you’ve ‘faked it’ the whole time – that you fooled them into thinking you had more talent and skill than you actually have. These feelings of self-doubt and incompetence, despite evidence to the contrary, represent what psychologists call imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome — named in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes — refers to a phenomenon that commonly plagues successful people as they reach new milestones in their careers.
Imposter syndrome makes you feel as if you don’t deserve the success you’ve achieved. You may harbor a guilty suspicion that you somehow tricked others into thinking you have a higher level of competence than you actually do.
Clueless – It Happens to Everyone
One day people will realize that I’m actually clueless. Feeling clueless may leave you worried that people will find out you don’t know nearly as much as your success implies. If this makes you feel like an imposter, you’re not alone. The fear of failure, or of faking others out, occurs in both men and women and at every level of success.
Whether you just landed your first client, or have worked for years to get to the top, this nagging syndrome may start to attack your confidence and personal power. If you leave the negativity of this false self-talk unchecked, it will permeate everything you do and that’s bad for business, for family, for everybody.
When you start to notice the presence of this killjoy in your daily thoughts about your success, just remember – everybody is clueless sometimes.
The incredibly inspiring and successful Seth Godin wrote about feeling like a fraud in his book, The Icarus Deception. Really? After his multiple best sellers and mega-influence, he still feels this way? Yes, he says he does.
A Little Self Doubt Never Hurt Anyone
My self-doubt pushes me to accomplish more. Research conducted at Purdue University showed that women who scored high on anxiety scales and imposter feelings also voiced an intense desire to prove themselves as competent. This drive caused them to compete even harder, leading to bigger and better achievements. Further, a little self-doubt attenuates the natural human tendency toward self-servitude and superiority over others.
Numerous studies show that most people do not judge their own abilities and performances accurately – either over- or understating performance outcome predictions. A bit of internal conflict about personal ability at various points of a person’s rise to success may allow for better decision making and a stronger drive to innovate and achieve.
It’s Not a Stroke of Luck – Own Your Success
Success doesn’t come from luck. Stop doubting your value. Even though some level of self-doubt can drive you to persist in achieving your goals, too much is definitely bad. You need to own your part in your successes. High achievers tend to focus on what they still need to accomplish rather than what they’ve already done. It’s important to keep what you haven’t done on the radar, of course; but you must also take responsibility for your achievements.
Adjust your thinking patterns and perceptions of your successes to more closely mirror reality. Look at certain career and personal milestones that objectively showcase your accomplishments and internalize the message these markers present to the outside world.
Each personal and professional victory, no matter how large or small, acts as significant external proof of your competence. To quell the voices that mock these successes as fakery, you must internalize these proofs. This takes practice and requires that your perception have a firm basis in reality. Acknowledge your mistakes and setbacks (everybody has them), but don’t allow these to set the theme of your life.