Even if you haven’t heard of the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ (henceforth referred to as IS), it’s possible you or someone you know may have had it at one point. Although it isn’t recognised as an official mental illness (in the DSM), it has in fact been around for many years. Famous personalities like Albert Einstein & Maya Angelou felt like frauds who had deserved more attention for their works than they felt they deserved. Celebrities from the 21st century like Tom Hanks, Serena Williams, Lady Gaga & Tina Fey have also reported being affected by this - not feeling worthy of the praise they get, despite their accolades & worldwide recognition & fame.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
According to Dr. Imes & Dr. Imes, the pioneers of IS research, it can be defined as “an individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness (fraud)”. IS revolves around the mindset of ‘we are not worthy’ or ‘we are incompetent’ or ‘we are frauds’. Individuals believe that no matter how successful they are, their standing is only because of mere luck, & that they will be called out on their apparent success eventually - something that wouldn’t be surprising to them when it happens. This is arguably prevalent in almost every field & in every organisation today.
Do millenials feel this way?
The short answer is - YES. With the strides in connectivity, the new generations can just about do anything using the internet. Want to know about Kim K’s diet for that hourglass figure? Or how Meghan Markle is taking the royal family on? Harry Styles's gender identity? Everything is just a click away!
Social media allows us to get an outsider’s perspective on almost every celebrity there is, & with that, comes a lot of high expectations with regards to lifestyle, body image, goals & perspectives. What a lot of people fail to understand is that we, as consumers of this information, are only being told what the celebrities want us to know & that there are a lot that we do not know. Individuals (me included) unconsciously compare themselves to these extravagant lives & almost always fall short. Goals are not met as fast as we’d hoped, our lives might be largely different & we are never as good looking.
Successful people also feel this way because they are always comparing themselves to someone they have put on a pedestal for some reason. These feelings of fraudulence are one of the worst feelings because it lowers your self-esteem and severely affects productivity.
Feelings of incompetence
IS is very prevalent, especially amongst women of power & minorities. They tend to always feel like they are going to be caught for rising to their position mistakenly & will be demoted if they are. They (men included) may believe that they will never be enough & are not worth the level they have established for themselves at work. These feelings of incompetence affect productivity wherein they feel like their work is not good enough & that they themselves, will never be good enough. Morale takes a huge hit, & in organisations where this is common, the overall output of the workforce will take a hit, quantitatively & qualitatively.
A subsequent result of this is overcompensation. Individuals tend to put themselves in difficult situations which they are not prepared for, putting them in an unnecessary & totally avoidable place of weakness. This only feeds into the “fake” mentality they possess because these beliefs are being confirmed.
Striving for perfection is good as long as it is a goal that can be achieved. Those with IS always look at their work as inadequate & insufficient & are constantly working & reworking on their content to achieve this level of perfection. This leads to a lot of time wasted doing the same thing which is counterproductive & can lead to burnout very quickly.
Millennials face this problem a lot because they are constantly comparing themselves or are being compared by others. The need to be the best in any field has never been stronger in a generation than it is now, & with information being available at our fingertips, & exposure being magnified through apps like Instagram & Facebook, comparison is inevitable. Stress becomes a normal part of life - all in the name of impressing other people, just in the hope of not being called out as a fake or copycat.
Procrastination is an obvious by-product of this because we tend to set aside our work hoping for the “aha moments”, which slows down our work, impedes our creativity & output, & the whole vicious circle begins again. Productive? Nahhh
How do you combat it?
In every organisation, constant communication is important to identify individuals who possess traits of IS in order to deal with it efficiently. This communication needs to be horizontal (inter-team & intra-team), as well as vertical (employer-employee), & should be a consistent practice, especially in multicultural workplaces.
Reassurance of Quality
Feedback is one of the most important resources in any work environment. It helps employees & employers alike to understand how their work is being assessed, & how they can improve on their work. People who have IS are already good at what they do, so it benefits the individual as well as the team to constantly let them know that their work is good, adequate & correct. This would ideally help them feel reassured at their current position, & hopefully, reduce the feelings of fraudulence within themselves.
Setting small, attainable goals
When we believe we are frauds at what we do, we subconsciously put ourselves in situations which prove this - all in the efforts to validate our internal thoughts of ourselves. One way we do this is to set unrealistic goals - like becoming a millionaire by 30, owning a large profit-making business etc. When these don’t come true within a time limit you had set for yourselves, it is bound to cause distress & further lower your self-esteem.
Set yourselves smaller goals which could help you reach this final point. These smaller steps are easier to reach, & every one of them helps boost your self-esteem.
Ask for Help
It is never a sign of weakness to ask for help, rather, a sign of maturity to acknowledge that someone else’s input might benefit your cause & reduce your struggle. Different perspectives or a more experienced eye is always a good thing & helps for a better, more rounded final product. So take a leap & ask for help; you never know what that decision could bring, but trust me, it will never be detrimental.
One of the best resources to help with confidence in Psychology is self-affirmations. Self-affirmations are daily reminders that you say to yourself to internalise positive feelings about yourself. Say things like :
- I am capable
- I belong at (insert the company you work at)
- I deserve this life
- I am good at what I do
- I am worthy
Over time, you are bound to see the difference it makes in your perspective about yourself. Trust me; try it out!
Remember - You're enough!
Quoting Michel de Montaigne, a French philosopher, “Kings & philosophers shit, & so do ladies”. This amazing line puts every one of us - irrespective of our backgrounds - together on the same plane to say we all feel the same feelings, even if the feelings of others aren’t being openly spoken about. If we feel something, there is a good chance that other people are feeling it as well. So readers, tell yourself this once, & tell yourself this once again - I. Am. Enough. We seal our fates depending on how much effort we put into our work & our lives; work hard & I’m sure, we will all go far. It’s not just luck - it’s YOU.