I first learned about Imposter Syndrome from a YouTube video that I’ll link at the bottom and talk about more in-depth later, but it has been something that has captivated me. Imposter Syndrome is the psychological idea that our accomplishments are by chance rather than actual achievement, which leads to a perpetual fear of being uncovered as a fraud or imposter. It is estimated that seventy-percent of people will experience Imposter Syndrome at one point or another in their career. While everyone has their own unique experiences, it’s clear that Imposter Syndrome is a serious issue that is a largely universal phenomenon. What is a little less clear is why so many people seem to have such high levels of doubt in their successes. Somehow, we have been conditioned to not just be humble, but to repulse congratulating ourselves.
Time Magazine published an article that has given some tendencies of people with Imposter Syndrome may exhibit. While this isn’t a complete list of symptoms, these are some of the common archetypes of Imposter Syndrome:
- “Perfectionists” set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence.
- “Experts” feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or training to improve their skills.
- When the “natural genius” has to struggle or work hard to accomplish something, he or she thinks this means they aren’t good enough. They are used to skills coming easily, and when they have to put in effort, their brain tells them that’s proof they’re an impostor.
- “Soloists” feel they have to accomplish tasks on their own, and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
- “Supermen” or “superwomen” push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.
For many of us, celebrating our success can feel awkward or uncomfortable. It can seem like we’re bragging or complacent, that what we accomplish is an expectation rather than anything of significance. A reason for this is our habitual tendency of comparing ourselves to others. We gravitate to others who have done the same thing as us and think, “Well, if everyone can do it, then it’s nothing to be proud of,” despite how specific a sample size it may be. Furthermore, when we see people who have traits and achievements that we think we lack, we tend to forget our own strengths and abilities. This constant scale of comparatively weighing ourselves against others is what I see as the largest benefactor in why we fail to give ourselves due credit. We try to explain our achievements as external reasons rather than internal reasons. We ultimately fear that being appreciative of our efforts will result in us becoming stagnant among an ever progressing society.
So how do we ever begin to validate ourselves and see that we deserve what we have? Primarily, we need to recognize that what we feel is perfectly okay. This fear of complacency is there for a reason; it pushes us to continuously improve as people. But sometimes, we go too far on this side of the spectrum and can feel isolated when everyone around us seems to have everything put together. I’ll be the first to dismiss this fact and say almost everyone has some amount of insecurity in themselves. Those who don’t have any impression of anxiety in their lives are typically the same people who are overly-confident in themselves (not saying that being confident in yourself is bad whatsoever, but some are on the other side of the extreme). When we believe we’re an imposter, it can feel sometimes that we don’t fit in with the people around us. But once we begin to notice that even the people we look up to have their own worries, we start to see the humanity that they exhibit as well.
Feeling Like an Imposter
I can relate to the feeling of thinking I’m an imposter or that my accomplishments are largely invalid. I think the most common way that kids our age begin to compare our competency is in terms of academic performance. Nowadays, there seems to be such a toxic environment of competition and superficial-status from grades and SAT scores, and I’ve definitely fallen into some of those trap holes. For most of my life, I’ve been one to obsess over how I’m doing in school. I was raised as a kid in the stereotypical Asian-American way of practicing Kumon and trying (and being denied) to get into AAP classes. I’ve probably spent over two-hundred hours being tutored in high school and I took nine months in preparation for my ACT. Even just now, I spent five hours on my college essay to only get two sentences done. Academics have always played a major role in my life, so much so that I began to take it on as part of my identity. I’ve seen first hand how both superiority and inferiority complexes form in school; I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. People, including myself, begin to attribute how they do in school to more intrinsic traits. But what eventually comes, as we know all too well, is that sometimes we make mistakes and don’t do as well as we thought we could. This past year, I failed exams worse than I ever have. I would receive a bad mark on a test and believe that I had let down other people’s expectations, that I was being revealed as an imposter. I started forgetting that it was just one bad grade, that everything was ultimately going to be fine. Somehow, I had convinced myself that everyone was looking down on me and had been fooled for thinking I was smart. I stopped pursuing fields I initially thought were interesting like computer science or engineering because I was afraid I didn’t belong with the people who have been studying it for a lifetime. I just rationalized that I wasn’t ever going to fit in with them and that I shouldn’t waste my time trying to be something I wasn’t.
I don’t mean to play the victim or inflict any pity from the readers at all. I fully recognize that everyone has their own unique experiences and this is in no way a generalization of Imposter Syndrome. I share those small anecdotes because it’s now something that I’ve learned from and am comfortable talking about. Imposter Syndrome has been something that has held me back from taking opportunities or having confidence in myself out of the fear of failure. But once I saw that the only thing holding me back was myself, I started to gain some assurance. In a way, I’m glad that these pressures exist; they continue to push me to be a better person and advance in life.
Many of us do continue to feel like an imposter at times, and I think it’s really important that we speak up so we don’t feel so isolated in our problems. I remember watching that YouTube video and feeling relieved that someone could put into words what I was thinking. I have the video linked right below and I encourage you guys to go check it out (it’s pretty funny in my opinion as well). I hope that from sharing my own experience that others who are going through similar things can feel they aren’t the only ones, that their feelings are valid. I wish that in any shape or form this blog post has been helpful to you. It would mean the world to me if you could share it with a friend or family member who might gain some value out of it. I’m so thankful for being in this position where I can talk about stuff like this with freedom, and I hope that it can make a difference.
Abrams, Abigail. “Yes, Impostor Syndrome Is Real: Here’s How to Deal With It.” Time, Time, 20 June 2018, time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/.
Johnson, Jarvis, director. You’re an Imposter! YouTube, 4 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SCzuinYQ80.