Have you ever had one or more of the following thoughts or feelings?
- “What do I know?”
- “I feel like a fraud. Am I really the best person for the job?”
- “I don’t belong here. I don't deserve to be here.”
- “I am not ________ enough.”
- “I’m a fake and people are going to find out.”
- “I cannot fail.”
- “She/he is so much better than I am.”
- “I’m successful because I got lucky.”
- “My achievements are not that special.”
Having these feelings once in a while is normal. However, if you experience these feelings on a daily basis, you may be struggling with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings relating to inadequacy, incompetency, and intellectual fraudulence that persist, despite an individual's education, experience, or expertise. In other words, it is a gnawing feeling that you are a fraud, or “imposter,” that will one day be “discovered” or “unmasked.” Thus, any kind of failure or mistake is avoided at all costs, though these standards are not humanly attainable, nor realistic.
No one is immune to imposter syndrome. Studies have shown that nearly 70% of people feel symptoms of the imposter syndrome sometime throughout their career. Even some of the most successful people struggle with imposter syndrome. Take award-winning writer, poet, and activist, Maya Angelou. After writing and publishing several books, Angelou admitted that she felt like an imposter. She stated, “I have written eleven books, and each time I think ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everyone and they’re going to find me out’.” Despite her incredible successes in the world of literature, Angelou felt plagued by self-doubt each and every time she published a new book.
How could such a successful writer, whose writings have been positively received by the public, be consumed with so much self-doubt? While imposter syndrome can impact everyone differently, researchers have indicated that it is related to perfectionism, fear of failure, and low self-esteem or lack of self-confidence. Interestingly, research has also shown that women and girls commonly fall victim to imposter syndrome, as they are more fearful of failure than their male counterparts. This can significantly impact a woman’s career decisions and development.
While imposter syndrome is common, it is also very isolating. We tend to keep these recurring feelings of self-doubt to ourselves; we don’t want to blow our “cover.” But, in reality, we all make mistakes - we are human; we are flawed. In fact, leaders are not recognized as such because they are perfect and know all the right answers. Instead, they are seen as leaders because they have a strong sense of confidence in their abilities, welcome other’s input, and seek advice or help when they feel out of their depth. Leaders do not always have the right answers, but they are dedicated to discovering those answers for the betterment of everyone.
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