By Sereena Pigeon, MSc., PhD candidate
Psychology intern at openspace clinic
Has this ever happened to you? After years of hard work, you finally made it to the end of a long-term goal, whether it be getting the degree, being admitted to the university program of your dreams, being chosen for the job you always wanted, or receiving the big promotion. After working late nights and long hours, showing up time and time again, and overcoming each challenge thrown your way, you finally got there! But something isn’t right – you feel like a fraud.
Imposter syndrome is a common psychological phenomenon that leaves many successful people doubting their abilities and accomplishments and fearing that they will one day be exposed as frauds or imposters, even though there is evidence that they earned their success. Imposter syndrome can affect people from all walks of life, including students, professionals, artists, athletes, and celebrities. People as prominent as Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou, Lady Gaga, and Emma Watson have reported experiencing it themselves. If you are feeling it too, you are in good company.
While imposter syndrome plagues many, it is known to have negative consequences on self-esteem, motivation, and well-being. It might be holding you back from taking on that exciting job opportunity or receiving well-deserved awards or recognitions; all because of the fear that others might finally realize you are undeserving.
Studies have shown that while imposter syndrome can be experienced by anyone, it tends to be more common for individuals in high-achieving environments where there is pressure to perform and conform to certain standards (like grad school or other training environments and fields such as medicine or engineering). Women and individuals from minority groups tend to be much more likely to experience imposter syndrome. For these groups, feelings of being a fraud likely stem from the discrimination and systemic bias they have been exposed to that has sent them the message that they do not belong.
Moreover, feelings of being an imposter tend to surface during life transitions or challenges that require new skills or roles, such as entering the workforce after finishing a degree or receiving an important promotion.
The good news is imposter feelings can be overcome. Here are some strategies that can help you start truly embracing your success:
- Name the imposter feelings: A first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is to acknowledge the negative thoughts and emotions that are leading you to feel like a fraud. By doing so, you can begin to challenge their validity and understand their origins.
- Talk about it: Sharing your imposter feelings with a trusted friend, mentor, or therapist can help you gain perspective. You may discover that you are not alone and that many other people, even people you consider to be experts, have experienced similar feelings. They may even share how they have learned to cope with these feelings.
- Reframe challenging situations: Instead of focusing on what you don’t know or can’t do, try to reframe challenging situations as an opportunity to learn. Embrace challenges and try to see your mistakes as a chance to gain feedback.
- Practice self-compassion: Try to treat yourself with more kindness and understanding. Stop setting unrealistic expectations for yourself, as this automatically sets you up for failure. Instead, set goals that are smaller but more manageable. Being more able to achieve your goals will give you a sense of mastery and counter imposter feelings.
- Stop comparing yourself to others: It can be easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. This is not only a problem because everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses and thus cannot be fairly compared, but also because we tend to compare ourselves to other people’s major accomplishments without considering the small steps they took to get there nor the mistakes they made along the way. We therefore put ourselves and our accomplishments at a disadvantage. It’s also important to remember that another person’s accomplishments do not take away the value of our own.
- Celebrate small wins: Don’t wait for major achievements to enjoy your success – celebrate the milestones along the way too! The journey to major accomplishments can be long and tiring. Celebrating smaller milestones will help you stay motivated and bring you more appreciation for your skills and progress.
Feeling like an imposter may be causing you unnecessary stress. While imposter syndrome can be challenging, with awareness, self-compassion, and support, it can be overcome. The above strategies can help you learn to recognize and manage your imposter feelings, regain your confidence, and fully embrace your hard-earned success.
Article contributed by OpenSpace Clinic
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