Imposter Syndrome - the complex affecting millions of high achievers

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In my mid-twenties I found myself questioning if I had what it took. People kept telling me how amazing I was and they would reflect my success back to me but I couldn't see it. My inner voice whispered, "They're going to find out you're a fraud," or "This was just a fluke."

Now, if I sucked at my job, feeling this way would make more sense but I produced results and kept hearing how great I was, so what the heck was going on?

Then the day came when I heard a group of women talk about this feeling of "being found out," and "feeling like fake," and I thought – wow, that's exactly how I feel! I quickly found out I wasn't alone and that this feeling I had was common (especially amongst women) and it even had a name - Impostor Syndrome.

So, what exactly is Impostor Syndrome?

American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.” Many high achievers are all too familiar with this feeling.

Imposter Syndrome affects 70% of young professionals whether they know it or not.

If you can relate the description above, you are not alone and there are ways to address this issue and even use it to your benefit.

Even the great author and poet, Maya Angelou, struggled with doubts from time to time. She shared,

I have written 11 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

Many politicians, actors, business men and women have shared similar feeling when it comes to how they and others perceive their personal success. But fear not, help is here! Below, are a few ways you can address and conquer impostor syndrome. Heck, you can even use it to your advantage when you find yourself struggling with the negativity that often comes with success.

1. OWN your success

Do you sometimes feel like you don't deserve your success? Time to stop!

You did something right to get to where you are. Own that YOU made things happen – whether's it's through a combination of luck, hard-work, being in the right place, whatever it is. Did you work in various roles that equipped you with the experience and tools that propelled you? Did you contribute in a meaningful way and make things happen?

Maybe it's the hours of learning to gather that knowledge. Perhaps it's the long hours to get things done. You could also be great at persuading, inspiring and building followers because you just have a rockin', inspiring personality.

Identify the steps that you took in order to get to where you are now and then recognize that YOU did this.

2. ACKNOWLEDGE your mistakes

A mistake does not make you a failure or a fraud.

It’s a common misconception that successful individuals have never made an error, had a business plan go sour or succeeded in every business venture.On the contrary, many have experienced extraordinary amounts of demise and have fallen from fame and fortune only to reset their sails and move forward into a different direction.

While 70% of professionals struggle with feelings associated with, ‘impostor syndrome” only 50% of individuals were able identify and address their issues on their own. Dr. Clance and Dr. Imes, the psychologists who researched the syndrome, also discovered that in order to succeed or move forward in ones career or personal life, seeking the advice of a business mentor or advisor was crucial.

Knowing you face these obstacles is just the first half to taming and harnessing these thoughts of distress that manifest themselves in your work and business relations. Turning to someone who will both act as a listening board and also offer helpful, life-changing advice is key.

3. EMBRACE positive feedback

Too often, in the name of humility we down play our accomplishment, especially when highlighted by others. Research shows men have an easier time accepting praise and realizing they "deserve" it. Women somehow feel "guilty" when they're acknowledged.

When you brush off a compliment, not only are you selling yourself short, you are also questioning the judgment of the person giving you feedback. 

When someone gives you a compliment, a positive review or even kind word, here's what you need to do - you need to embrace it. Heck, go on and give yourself a pat on the back!

If you’re feeling stuck or can relate to even just some of the information provided, start putting at least one of the three tips to use. If you know someone who may identify as an impostor, do just one thing to help – share this article with them!