In my last post, I introduced you to what Dr. Pauline Rose Clance calls the “impostor phenomenon” — that nagging feeling that, despite being perfectly qualified to do something, you just don’t belong.
That you’re just not good enough (even though you are).
That you’re just not smart enough (even though, again, you are).
Have you ever felt like this before?
I have to credit the good folks on Reddit’s /r/anxiety community for inspiring this series of blog posts about impostor phenomenon. In fact, they’re exactly who I’ll be turning my attention to now.
In my last post, I shared a few anecdotes about my own experience with impostor phenomenon at work, and my fellow blogger’s experience with it at grad school.
And now, to really prove that this is a commonly-shared experience, I’m going to share a few of the Reddit posts that opened my eyes to how common this phenomenon actually is!
DOES ANYONE ELSE FEEL LIKE A PHONY, TOO?
It all started when user Thinksincode posed the following question to the community:
Do you suffer from impostor syndrome?
I get this all the time. It’s a feeling that, despite having done well at your job, you feel like you’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out that you’re just an “impostor” and the house of cards collapses.
It can be really anxiety-provoking, and really hurts my self-confidence. Have any of you dealt with impostor syndrome?
And the response to his question was overwhelming. Several answers from fellow Redditors had to do with feeling like an impostor school or in academic settings. User Amateurpolymath wrote:
As a graduate student surrounded by genius colleagues who went to much better universities in undergrad, I feel this all the time. I don’t know know what to do about it, and it haunts me every second of every day.
User Bikemistress responded with some empathy and wise words (and I’ve bolded a very significant part of her response):
Same here. One thing that I learned after finally getting up the courage to talk to my closest friends in my department is that everyone feels like this in graduate school.
Once I opened up to one of my classmates about feeling like this, she told me she was shocked to hear that from me. Apparently since I would always leave when everyone was studying together for midterms, they assumed that I had all of my shit together and didn’t find it necessary to study.
In reality being around everyone else talking about details of the material would put me on the verge of an attack so I had to leave to avoid it.
I can guarantee that even when you’re feeling like an impostor and stressing out about if you can succeed there is someone else in your department having the exact same thoughts, and looking at you as the one that deserves to be there more than they do. Remember, your department would not invest time and resources in you if they didn’t think you were good enough.
User Teds101 related his own experience with the impostor phenomenon in the workplace:
I went through a few weeks where for no reason I felt like I was going to be in trouble, was doing inadequate and didn’t deserve my job and that my boss was going to fire me. I was doing the same thing I always did though.
And even people who are “successful” in the traditional sense of the word aren’t immune to feeling like a phony. From user Boomerangotan:
I was hired by a company in 1998. Been with them all the way. It was a small company of 5-8 employees when we were bought by a much larger company a few years ago.
I am happily a lead developer. My boss and his boss are good friends. The boss’s boss is now a VP of our division and still good friends -he still asks my advice for things and asks how other managers are performing. I still produce good stuff and occasionally blow away coworkers with some cool solutions to problems. The product my little company got bought out for went on to become a huge money-maker for the bigger company.
And yet I am still in a constant state of anxiety about my job. I feel that tightness in my chest throughout the day. I fear that my colleagues put on a facade and only put up with me for my seniority. I fear that everyone else knows what they are doing and so far I have just lucked out that I have been able to find good solutions to the problems we’ve faced.
I logically realize I couldn’t really be in a better position, yet I don’t know how to shake this constant fear.
So, how can we shake this feeling of fraudulence?
1. First, recognize what impostor phenomenon is. If you’ve read this blog post, you should have a pretty solid idea of its symptoms by now. Notice when you’re feeling it, and remind yourself that about a billion other people feel the same way. It’s not just you.
2. Avoid self-deprication. My own therapist calls this the “but” syndrome. After noticing that I tend to downplay all of my successes by following up with the word “but”, she urged me to begin noticing how often I do this in daily life. Turns out, I was doing it very often: I’m a college instructor, but only part-time. I was published in the LA Times, but only once. I went grocery shopping today, but I still couldn’t get all the way over to aisle 14 without panicking.
3. Make a list of your accomplishments. Recognizing your triumphs doesn’t make you conceited; rather, it helps you to focus on the value of what you’ve achieved. Review the list regularly — especially when you start to feel like you’re a fake who is about to be “found out” by classmates or co-workers.
How do you manage the impostor phenomenon in your own life? Please share your own techniques in the comments!
- Crushing the Impostor Syndrome (CycloneLife; college-oriented post)
- Do Your Suffer From Impostor Syndrome Or Similar? (Reddit; female-oriented discussion thread)
- Managing Your Impostor Syndrome: What To Do If You Feel Like A Fake (Psychology Today; interview)