Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg says, ‘‘There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.’’
Termed the Impostor Syndrome, it is important that this feeling be identified, for it is not merely a passing feeling of insecurity. It is something far deeper, and oftentimes, crippling.
In their paper, The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes elucidate that women who experience the impostor phenomenon believe that they are not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise, in spite of their outstanding academic and professional accomplishments.
It is, however, important to understand if what you are experiencing is merely a feeling of insecurity or a result of the Impostor Syndrome. The main distinguishing factor is that people with feelings of insecurity are unable to achieve much success and feel disappointed with themselves because of their failure to reach their goals. Those with Impostor Syndrome on the other hand, are often highly successful and have many achievements to their name, and yet feel insignificant.
Pauline Clance says, “The clinical symptoms most frequently reported are generalized anxiety, lack of self-confidence, depression, and frustration related to inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievement.”
It is vital that you recognise and treat this syndrome as it can seriously cripple your professional life and prevent you from reaching your full potential. As with all psychological issues, the diagnosis of the Impostor Syndrome is the first step towards its remedy. Below are 5 signs of the Impostor Syndrome that you should look out for:
Sign #1: You think you don’t deserve your achievement and it must have been a mistake.
The study by Clance and Imes examined university graduates who felt that they were admitted by some possible error by the admissions committee. They were also firmly convinced that their high grades were due to a wrong evaluation. Rather than attributing your achievement to your skill, you think that it must be a mistake.
Sign #2: You constantly feel that people will discover you don’t deserve the accolades and so you go out of your way to prove your worth.
Reaching out to greater heights of achievement is definitely a good thing, but if that is motivated by your fear of being “found out” as a fraud or impostor, then that only leads to a constant sense of dread and anxiety.
The Impostor Syndrome robs you of confidence and cloaks your achievement with a sense of foreboding that will gradually eat away at your self-esteem. Actress Natalie Portman at a Harvard Commencement Speech shared “I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress”, even though she had graduated from Harvard.
Sign #3: You tend to forget all that is right and zoom in on the one thing that’s wrong.
Despite achieving a goal, you stay focused on a minor mistake made along the way, which in the grand scheme of things is typically insignificant. The inability to forgive yourself of that one mistake and your constant worry in reflecting on errors rather than achievements can prove detrimental to one’s physical and mental health over time.
Sign #4: You feel your achievements aren’t worthwhile; that they aren’t enough.
You are constantly trying to live up to a standard that you have set but never seem to be able to reach. Any form of achievement that you may attain, you still feel it’s lacking, that it’s not the best and that things could have turned out much better. You underplay your achievements to others and to yourself, refusing to accept that you have achieved anything significant worth celebrating for.
Sign #5: You think that credit is only worth it if the path to achievement was extremely difficult.
You refuse to believe that talent comes to you naturally and that it might actually be easy for you to achieve success. Drawing on professor Kay Deaux’s study, Clance and Ime’s paper show that “unlike men, who tend to own success as attributable to a quality inherent in themselves, women are more likely either to project the cause of success outward to an external cause (luck) or to a temporary internal quality (effort) that they do not equate with inherent ability”.
Minimising achievements in this manner makes you feel that you don’t really deserve the accolades.
If you see these signs in you, then you might want to measure yourself on the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIPS). Remember though that a self-diagnosis isn’t enough; this is just to help you recognise what you are going through.
Having said that, it is important to know that living with and conquering the Impostor Syndrome is possible. High achievers like Sheryl Sandberg and Natalie Portman have proved it. So believe in yourself; get the help you need and let the superstar that you are come through.
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