Impostor Syndrome — Discover and Overcome It
by Andreea Oproiu • almost 3 years ago • 6 min read
Modern society certainly has its ups and downs, and we’re continuously adjusting to its changes, both physically and mentally. We now live in a world where you can order almost anything from the opposite part of the world and have it at your door with just a few taps on your phone, but you can also get hit by unknown fears that take over your mental state even when you’re in the middle of an enjoyable activity.
We don’t know if we can include this aspect as good or bad news, but most of the inexplicable emotions that you’re feeling are actually more common than you’d think, aaand they actually have a name. One of the little, but actually very mischievous, children of anxiety is — The Impostor Syndrome.
What is the Impostor Syndrome?
“Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. 'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
Differently put, most of the times when you feel like a fraud at work and have a fear that your colleagues or other people may discover that you’re not actually that good - it’s not real, it’s your brain having a slight imbalance and mocking your actual skills. Scientific researches have concluded that almost 70% of people experience this and their jobs don’t follow a pattern, they’re in all types of industries and vary from entry level to the most senior. Are you feeling slightly better now, knowing that we’re literally (almost) all in this together?
How to cope with this modern phenomenon
OK, now that we’ve stated the fact that this negative experience is common, we know that it only helps you like 10-20% percent, as these facts don’t make it go away. So how can we cope with those creeping feelings that can appear even when our work is at its peak?
Here are some of our (not scientific*) approaches:
- Concentrate on the things you do know
Part of the feelings that are caused by this syndrome is a sudden realization of the things you don’t know, and this gains a negative weight over your overall results. No matter your specialty and level of profession, there will always be aspects you can’t control, can’t comprehend or simply haven't had the time to learn them yet. When you’re focused on creating something within your work, and you feel this unwanted fear of not knowing enough, try to take a step back and assess all your current knowledge and how much you can do with it, and you’ll see that you’re more capable than that little annoying voice inside your head says.
- Don’t compare yourself with others
As Theodore Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
If it were to translate this quote into nowadays — you’re literally causing all the negative emotions onto yourself. Everybody functions at a different pace than you and has different purposes, weaknesses or strengths than you. By comparing yourself with others, not only that you’re stealing from your own focus, which can bring you closer to a better version of yourself, but you’re also supplying the impostor syndrome with enough material to make its appearance more often into your life.
Are you better than you were yesterday or last month or last year? This is the only comparison that maintains a healthy relationship between you and your emotions and creates a competition between you and your past self. So beat your past self — take that course today, learn a new programming language, force yourself to engage with new people. These are the activities that beat your fears and eliminate your interests in what others do better.
- Make your colleagues feel included
If we make a simple math exercise, considering the early mentioned facts, 7 out of 10 colleagues of yours experience this as well. When working on a project, the feeling of “being in this together” can decrease the members’ fears, as the responsibility is shared. Take a moment and make your team feel empowered and included, they might need that today.
- Give yourself a pat on the back when you’re actually the only one in the room
The only specialist in a room of managers, the only developer in a room of VPs, the only woman in a room of men.
Our sense of belonging is one of the most natural feelings we can have as humans, and when this is slightly broken or disturbed, it is normal to feel like the odd one out. Therefore, when you find yourself to be the only one of a group of people in a room, remember that it is normal to feel a bit estranged and be kind to yourself. Certainly, there are other relatable aspects to the other people around you, so concentrate on those if they help.
- Develop a healthy relationship with failure
The most common root of the Impostor Syndrome is perfectionism. When you need everything to be perfect and let nothing leave your hands without being flawless, you’re fueling your fear of failure by giving it too much power.
Part of developing a healthy relationship with failure is letting yourself fail. The more you see that the downside is actually not that terrible, the more courageous you become and leave others’ opinions about you behind.
Think about that and start small. Deliver something when you’re fairly satisfied with it and not after you’ve checked it 100 times. It will be liberating and fulfilling.
Being at peace with how much you know and don’t know is a work in progress for everybody. The major action we can do is to check-in more often with ourselves and be grateful for how far we’ve come. To quote one of our #sensidevs: “The guy next to you feels exactly the same.”
*This article is published during the International Mental Health Awareness Week, with the aim of bringing more attention to this topic.