I’ve always been my own worst critic.
While playing sports in high school.
My first job post-college.
Even in my current job.
I often consider this a positive thing. Something that motivates me to be the best at what I do.
But recently, I’ve realized that this way of thinking is holding me back.
What is Imposter Syndrome
The Harvard Business Review defines imposter syndrome as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.
I’ve successfully graduated college and landed a job in my chosen career field. I’ve continued to grow in my craft and refine my skills. I enjoy my job and I’m good at it…or am I?
What if I’ve only gotten to where I am today by chance?
I’m probably easily replaceable.
My skills get the job done but they could be better.
One day my luck will run out.
Someone better will come along.
These thoughts constantly creep into my mind no matter how many times I tell myself they’re not true.
Almost anyone I talk to will admit to having similar thoughts. A simple google search of “imposter syndrome” will show countless articles and research on this phenomenon. The funny thing is, when someone else tells us they have these thoughts, our immediate response is, “No way! You’re so talented. Look at all these things you’re so good at!”
Why can we recognize the absurdity of these thoughts in others but not in ourselves?
Why We Feel Like Imposters
For me, imposter syndrome is a defense mechanism. If I already think that I’m not good enough at what I do, then other people can’t make me feel that way.
It will hurt less for someone to kick me when I’m down if I’ve already lowered myself to the ground.
I had a professor in college that was a big proponent of in-class critiques. We would bring in our current project, pin it to the wall, and the whole class would stand in a big huddle around our work to give feedback. This process was extremely beneficial, albeit a bit terrifying. When the work you’ve spent hours on is hanging there on the wall, it doesn’t matter how good of a job you think you did. All of the confidence you thought you had is suddenly at the mercy of your classmates’ impending feedback. Without fail, one of us would present our work with the phrase:
“This probably isn’t any good but…”
It was that sneaky defense mechanism creeping in again. Our professor had to constantly remind us that we can’t expect others to have confidence in our work if we don’t.
There’s a lot of merit in the popular “fake it until you make it” attitude. It motivates us to continuously grow and work hard. But the imposter syndrome kicks in when we tell ourselves we’re stuck in the “fake it” phase, and the “make it” is nowhere in sight.
We’re holding ourselves back when our goals and accomplishments are no longer driven by our passions and desire to grow, but rather the fear of not being good enough. It’s good to recognize that there are limitations to our abilities, that there’s always more room to grow and improve in our craft, but when that feeling turns into, “one day everyone will figure out I’m a fraud,” we’re setting ourselves up for failure.
Believe in Your Potential
We’ll never reach our full potential if we convince ourselves we have none.
I used to think my imposter syndrome was healthy motivation. But it only cripples my creativity. It makes me more hesitant to try new things and share ideas. And it ultimately takes the joy out of the successes I’ve had.
I’d love to say that writing this blog has cured me of these thoughts and I can now successfully live my life without fear of failure. Unfortunately, this is all much easier said than done. It’s a process that I have to work at every day.
But I’ll leave it at this: I didn’t get to where I am today purely by accident or a glitch in the system. And neither did you.