Impostor syndrome shows you care about your work
As a young woman fresh out of college and ready to chase my fashion and writing passions by establishing myself as a creative designer and excellent writer, I was bold for my age and was able to shut down all negative comments. But before I achieved the level of success I aimed for, I had an obstacle to overcome: impostor syndrome.
Also referred to as the “impostor phenomenon” and “fraud syndrome” – this is a feeling that you are a fraud and any day now you will be exposed; a syndrome that is more common than surveys reveal, presumably because it is not the kind of thing people would like to share. It is when one feels tremendous self-doubt and cannot recognise or treasure one’s accomplishments.
Other consequences of impostor syndrome include failing to voice opinions at work meetings, not fighting for a promotion, and not exhibiting leadership traits.
I first noticed that I had that when a year after I launched my fashion line I received a phone call from the UAE Arab Woman Awards Organisers, who congratulated me on my successful nomination and receiving the Young Designer of the Year award. After I shut the phone, I was in a state of disbelief, and the impostor syndrome symptoms started to kick in, such as feeling that there are others out there who probably deserve it more, that I will receive a call any day before the event from the organisers apologising for calling me by mistake.
After researching my “symptoms” and finding out about impostor syndrome, I realised that I was not the only one. In fact, women experience this more than men. In an article published by The Guardian, two US sociologists, Jessica Collett and Jade Avelis, wanted to find out why many females opted for “downshifting”, aiming for high status job posts at first, then switching to something less ambitious. In the survey 470 female doctoral students were questioned, and the reasons behind that were not to do with friendlier lifestyles, but that impostor syndrome was to blame.
Not only do female doctorate students and entrepreneurs go through this, but even the world’s most successul people and celebrities. The writer Neil Gaiman suffered from impostor syndrome even after having received prestigious awards in his industry. The American actress Tina Fey also openly admitted to suffering from impostor syndrome and feeling like a fraud at some point in her career.
The strange thing about this syndrome is that real frauds rarely seem to experience it. Receiving more awards and winning more recognition do not seem to fix that sickly feeling that people with the syndrome suffer from. In fact, awards and promotion will make them compare themselves negatively to those in their same position, adding more negative feelings.
So what can be done? In her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of it, Valerie Young, the author and an expert on women with impostor syndrome, looks closely at the condition and provides solutions on how sufferers can be relieved from it.
One of the solutions she highlights is for the person to recognise they have it, and that it is not necessarily a bad thing, but shows that one really does care about their career/profession. Many experts also state that it would help for people to see those they look up to talk about their insecurities. When one sees his/her role model talk about the difficulties and challenges they faced when they started, it helps them to form a realistic opinion of their work.
Another solution, which I personally applaud, is to take the time to value your unique contribution to your organisation or field. Recognise and value outcomes that were a direct result of your value or effort. Was the launch of a new fund a result of your hard work? If so, you should embrace it.
It would help to keep a success journal. Record your accomplishments on a daily basis and review them at the end of every week. It is strange how we tend to remember our failures clearly but not our successes, and having a success journal that would serve as a positive affirmation could help a lot.
Just like with any problem in life, the first step towards overcoming it is to recognise it at first, and to assure yourself that you are not the only one out there. Just think about all the great opportunities that could be unlocked by overcoming this.
Updated: January 18, 2014 04:00 AM