By Jennifer Outcelt, Creative Content Architect
I must admit something to everyone here… I’ve been worrying about this for some time and the immense fear of being exposed has led me to take control and expose myself.
I’m a FRAUD.
I have no idea what I am doing. I have no special skills. I’m not qualified enough for anyone to listen to my opinion. I’m not deserving of my recent position shift. AND, it’s only a matter of time before everyone in the office realizes that I’m a big phony-baloney, covers me in fireweed honey and dogwood pollen, and sends me shamefully out into the wilderness to be ravaged by bears (or particularly aggressive beavers).
So, I actually know that none of the above is true. Or at least the left side of my conscious brain is aware that these feelings are the representation of a commonly experienced phenomenon known as Imposter Syndrome.
A psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.1
I’ve had a recent Baader-Meinhof experience with the concept of Imposter Syndrome. I first mentioned my feelings of inadequacy in a meeting with my new RISQ Servant Leader. The next day I confided in my therapist about my Imposter Syndrome feelings, and she was able to empathize from her own experiences. Later that night my husband watched a YouTube video from one of his favorite hobby artists about the topic. The day after that, my best friend brought it up in conversation about her recent shift to self-employment.
It’s everywhere! Everyone seems to be in a self-delusional state of inadequacy.
It’s surprising to know that even the smartest, most talented, uber successful people we can think of are also fraught with feelings of fraud. Albert Einstein, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, and Tina Fey are just a couple of objectively accomplished individuals who have been victims of their own Imposter Syndrome. Even more surprising is that the chances of experiencing Impostor Syndrome increase as your successes increase. Bummer, right? You spend all this time working towards a goal, whether it be theory defining science, worthy art, social change, or fame, just to chalk it all up to dumb luck and an unintentionally successful societal swindle. My, we humans can be unkind to ourselves!
So what’s the big deal here? Everyone doubts themselves. Why is this so bad?
For me, I’m trading anxiety, fear, and increased burnout for a flawed version of humility. I spend a lot of mental energy contemplating why what I do is not that unique, not that creative, not better than other’s work, and not particularly worthy of the praise it receives. Heck, it took me years to just accept a complement flat out (and even now it’s mostly to avoid making the conversation awkward). For those who know me personally this might come as a surprise, as I’m generally considered to be a confident individual. What’s that saying, fake it until you make it?
But I haven’t been faking it! I’ve been working and learning and growing and trying and failing and trying again. There is nothing wrong with that path. So why does it feel so wrong to acknowledge it and praise it? It’s that darn humility thing again! For some reason I feel like if I were to accept my successes as completely deserved, it would make me a pretentious jerk. And once I become a jerk, people will look closer at my so-called successes and realize they are not actually mine to tout. Even announcing that I think I struggle with Imposter Syndrome gives me fraud like feelings! “Oh, you think you’re so successful and there is so much for you to feel like a fraud about? HA!”. It’s a vicious cycle… but is that really what humility should cost?
I ask a lot of questions, huh?
I don’t have answers to most of them. I’m sorry.
Given the prevalence of Imposter Syndrome, we can now conclude that ALL of us are frauds, right? Umm, NO. But what we can learn is that this feeling is common. We can look to others (who we think totally deserve their recognition) as evidence that we too are worthy. Deep down I know my accomplishments are mine, even if I find myself under a wave of doubt at times. I’m not alone. You’re not alone. We all need to examine the pressure we put on ourselves to not only be a success, but to own our success.
But again, who am I to talk? What do I know? Probably nothing.
1 “Imposter Syndrome.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2011. https://www.merriam-webster.com (11 August 2021).