By Jimmy Warden
There is a challenge that a lot of competent, capable people face everyday. This challenge is a challenge within themselves, that they may or may not be aware of. This challenge is something that can hold them back from their true potential, or skyrocket their talent without them truly being aware of how good they are. This is a challenge that they face when they fail to accept their true abilities for what they are. This challenge, is Imposter Syndrome.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is a person’s belief that their talents, abilities, or competence are not as high as they actually are. They are underestimating themselves in a variety of areas of their life. They feel they are not meeting the standards that others tell them that they are. It might manifest as the artist who throws away a potential award winning piece because it’s “not very good” or “it seems like a child created it”. It could manifest as the chef who constantly berates themselves, or claims their food is average, despite serving 5-star meal after 5-star meal. In other places, it could be the nurse who thinks they can still do more for their patients, despite rave reviews from the patients on the floor they work on. It could be the teacher who questions how much their students have learned, despite the daily growth other adults in the room see from those same students.
At its core, Imposter Syndrome is when someone believes they are not doing something well, despite evidence showing that they are indeed succeeding at what they are doing. They are also competent in their knowledge of what they are doing and how to do it, and often have some natural talent and skills, too. The name Imposter Syndrome comes from the fact that the individual thinks they are an imposter in a certain area (or areas) of their life because they don’t see what others see. This is why it comes in so many forms. It can be someone feeling they’re not good at their job, they’re not good at a sport, they’re not good at a craft, they’re not good at a skill, they’re not in good physical shape, they’re not in good mental shape, and the list can go on and on. It is when someone’s competence and ability in an area of life, exceeds their confidence in themselves in that area.
How it can be harmful
Imposter Syndrome can be harmful for several reasons. The first one being is that we get in our own way when we experience Imposter Syndrome. Our insecurity that we have can breed fear and anxiety within us and create a fear barrier. Depending on the strength of this fear barrier, we may be too afraid to take action to try to improve on our perceived incompetence, which would only exacerbate our current state. This anxiety and fear in our abilities can also hold us back from our potential with self-deprecating thoughts like, “I’ll never be as good as ____” or “It’s impossible for me to get better at this”. This type of fixed mindset will immediately halt any growth that we might be trying to make in our lives, and the longer that it persists, the longer we stay in the same situation.
Another reason that Imposter Syndrome could be potentially harmful is that can lead to us looking for evidence to confirm our bias against ourselves. What this means is that every mistake we make is another data point that is tallied towards us being a failure. Despite the positive tallies that show up, we aren’t always aware of them or accept them when we are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, which is what can be another challenge amidst this burden. If this ends up being the case, we could end up turning to negative coping mechanisms to “numb the pain” of not being very good in our eyes. This could look like poor eating habits, lack of grooming and self-care, increase of alcohol or drug use, etcetera. Hopefully, it doesn’t get to this point, but there is a potential that it could lead to these types of behaviors, and potentially depression.
Despite all of the potential negativity, there is also a potential that we can try to put a positive spin on our experiences of Imposter Syndrome.
How it can be helpful
The good news about Imposter Syndrome is that we have a choice about how we react to it. One way that Imposter Syndrome can actually be helpful is that it can give us a plan of action for what to do. Considering we feel like we’re not reaching our potential or our ideal self when we are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, that can be the fuel for our action. We can take aim at what we need to do in order to reconcile our self-perceived incompetence, and then try to take small steps towards closing that gap. In this way, we are using our Imposter Syndrome to fuel our growth in the area (or areas) of our life in which we want to grow.
As this happens, there tends to be a positive side effect. This side effect is an increase in our confidence of the areas of life that initially gave us the Imposter Syndrome experience. With the right mindset and approach; we can continue to push forward towards growth, despite our initial feelings of inadequacy because they will be drowned out with an increase in our confidence. However, confidence doesn’t just show up. The criteria for an increase in confidence is the increase in skill we are looking for; therefore we need that data to disprove our initial bias against ourselves. We need to gather the information that is showing us that we are getting better in order for us to realize we aren’t as bad as we originally thought.
How can we combat Imposter Syndrome?
We can use some of the ideas that were laid out in the previous paragraphs about how Imposter Syndrome can be helpful, but there are also a few other ideas worth pondering. First, we should try to think about the areas in our life in which we feel we aren’t as good as we can be. This should be a hard examination in which we don’t leave any stone unturned, because there could be several parts of our lives that contribute to our Imposter Syndrome.
From this list, then we can think about the areas that others might feel we’re doing well with. These areas can be the starting points for where your Imposter Syndrome is coming from. Next, think about what we want to improve first, and what are some small steps that we can take to start closing the gap of competence and confidence. From here, we can take the appropriate measures.
If it’s skills we’re lacking, along with confidence, then it is a matter of trying to improve our skills, so that we can improve our confidence. If it’s merely a confidence issue, we need to practice acceptance. We need to learn how to accept compliments, as well as accept that doing our best is indeed our best, until that bar gets raised. Whatever the issue or issues are, it is important to use the proper tools of reflection and introspection.
As we begin to implement the appropriate tactics, we need to not only gather, but accept the data that disproves our inadequacies. Often times, the data has been there previously, but we haven’t quite been aware of it, due to being blinded by data that confirms our inadequacies.
Lastly, we must accept the improvement data as truth, not a fallacy. We are seeing what we are seeing because we are closing the gap between our competence and confidence.
I know these ideas are a lot easier said and read, than done, so all we can do is try to do our best. Embrace and enjoy each day of the micro-improvements, as they slowly build, and slay the imposter within us.