One recent mundane evening, during my daily commute back home, I sat in the Caltrain reading captions on an auto-playing video of a TED Talk from Phil Mckinney, CEO CableLabs, sharing his insight on the causes of impostor syndrome. His idea of impostor syndrome – hiding a secret while having a deep-rooted inferiority complex – has been bothering me.
Although Mckinney has a point, I don’t completely agree. I have felt like an impostor so many times in my career, feeling as though I don’t deserve to be here and the notion of just plain luck. For me, the reason for the self-doubt that led me to develop impostor syndrome 5 years back is no more relevant today.
Circumstances have changed, and so have my reasons of self-skepticism. For those who know the storyline of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, impostor syndrome is like a boggart. It has morphed over time just as my fear has evolved, and transformed in relation to my present situation, people around me, role, responsibilities, and challenges. I need to cut down self-depreciation and start building one brick at a time.To reduce impostor syndrome it's important to acknowledge, observe and process the thoughts of self-skepticism that bother us instead of ignoring them Click To Tweet
It is very important for us to acknowledge, observe and process the thoughts of self-skepticism that bother us from time to time instead of ignoring them. Begin by observing them logically as if someone came to you for help with the same concern of timidness and anxiety. Differentiate anxiety due to lack of preparedness, uncertainty, and an uncertain future from the anxiety and self-doubt due to a lack of control on the present. It is important to distinguish actionable worries and channel energy and effort to actionable worries.
Face your fears! Imagining the worst-case scenario can help in order to strategically work out a solution. In a WBUR talk on “How to Stop Worrying,” Dr. Kathryn Kirkland suggests that “there is evidence that people not only are strong enough to face these potentially threatening situations but may actually benefit from doing so. Facing worst-case scenarios in a safe environment can help people prepare themselves and practice how they might react.”
There is a strong reasoning behind this strategy. Imagining the worst-case aligns with what Buster Moon said in the animated film, Zootopia:
you know the good thing about hitting rock bottom? There’s only one way left to go and that’s UP! – Buster Moon
A recent study conducted by The Independent found a third of millennials experience self-doubt at work. 40% of those were women, as compared to 22% of men. I found anecdotes on impostor syndrome on the internet claiming we are not alone and we share it with the greats like Lupita Nyong’o and Sheryl Sandberg, which could help us all feel a little better.
“Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself — or even excelled — I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.” –Sheryl Sandberg
As Sheryl Sandberg puts it in her Mar 2013 book, Lean-In :
Both men and women are susceptible to the impostor syndrome, but women tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it.
Impostor syndrome comes in a variety of flavors, from extremes of being 100% confident of a failure to underestimating your experience or expertise.” The most common one is devaluing your worth — even as somebody else is actively supporting it. It’s time to combat impostor syndrome in all its pernicious forms. You are not alone.
Superstar Lupita Nyong’o shared how receiving an Oscar has actually made her impostor syndrome worse!
In an interview with Tom Huddleston for Timeout.com in Sep 2016, Nyong’o said,
What’s it called when you have a disease and it keeps recurring? I go through [acute impostor syndrome] with every role. I think winning an Oscar may in fact have made it worse. Now I’ve achieved this, what am I going to do next? What do I strive for? Then I remember that I didn’t get into acting for the accolades, I got into it for the joy of telling stories.
In my experience, a lot of people, at times, feel like we don’t deserve our own success. It is important to learn from our failures but at the same time it is critical to fight back our fears and complexes one at a time. For some, it may help to recall that the job you are in was not won in a lottery. Most of us have to go through job interviews and proving ourselves on the job by delivering on the responsibilities.
A little self-apprehension is a good thing. It enables us to not only reflect but look for validation and be open to feedback. Last but not least, it not only keeps you learning and growing but also keeps you humble and humility is one precious virtue to keep in today’s times.
As Casey Brown said in her TEDx talk, “Know your worth, then ask for it,” you have to take responsibility for communicating your own value to yourself and others. It’s ok to share your own story, your own growth, and value yourself as much as you might value others. In fact, you can help others own their own story, too. When we help others with their own struggles with self-doubt, we might even feel better about our own challenges. Celebrate the small wins, especially as they add up and reflect the value other people see in us.
Cover photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash