Imposter syndrome. You might have heard it somewhere. You might be dealing it with it right now or know someone who is dealing with it. To readers who don’t know what imposter syndrome is, below there is a definition by Oxford Dictionary:
The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills.
Imposter syndrome is not something new. In 2008 Harvard Business Review wrote a post on how you can overcome imposter syndrome. In the same year, The New York Times wrote an article about feeling like a fraud and what measures you can take against it. The term was firstly introduced in 1978 by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes in their article The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.
Yet, in the past years the term ‘imposter syndrome’ has been rising and rising. Below you can see a trending line upwards in the past 5 years when you search the term on Google.
So the question lies, why?
We live today in an age where information is abundant. We can stay up to date with pretty much everything and keep in touch with our loved ones online. However, it can be harmful when used wrong.
If you look on social media or somewhere else on the Internet, you see people celebrating their success, such as having a new job, promotion, or something else they are proud of. Nothing wrong with that.
What is wrong, however, is when you start comparing yourself with them. You might think that you have done something wrong that causes you not to be successful or lagging behind others. Your projects and achievements you got so far seem like they are worthless compared to your peers online.
Another example might be when you start a new job. You doubt your skills and think they are not on par with your co-workers. As a result of this, you think you might not be a fit for the job and are underestimating your skills.
I work as a software developer for more than a year. While I have learned a lot of things at that time, I feel like I still know too little when it comes to a lot of tools, frameworks, and programming languages. Especially in software development technology is developing very fast. The tools you’re using today might not be needed in two years. On a personal level, this is something I used to (and sometimes still do) struggle with.
I also felt that I know too little compared to my peers. I have no relevant degree in programming or computer science and did not have any relevant work experience. While I am happy with my achievements so far, sometimes I have that annoying voice in my head that it isn’t enough of what I have achieved.
The question: How to overcome imposter syndrome? Thankfully, there are some mechanisms and other ways to deal with it. Here is a list I compiled together:
- Celebrate all your victories and accomplishments, both large and small. – The most important thing is to celebrate your victories, even if you think it is not that significant. If you keep telling your mind only negative things, it will think you are not worth something. The same principle applies when you tell your mind positive things. You are getting a more positive outlook on your achievements.
- Ask for help when you don’t know about it. – This might be sound obvious, but often people are hesitant to ask for help. It could be because they are afraid they might be viewed as incompetent or as a burden. Those assumptions are simply false. Asking for help is beneficial for many reasons. It builds connections with other people, you are working on your communication skills, you gain different perspectives and you are getting out of your comfort zone. So don’t be hesitant to ask others for help.
- Write your thoughts and success in a journal – Writing your thoughts in a journal can be helpful to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Recognize and writing them down can help you to give you a clear picture and a better understanding of what your problems are and how to tackle them.
- Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else high-light reel. – We often get to see the achievements of persons online but rarely their failures. Do you see someone posting on Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter they got evicted from their home, cannot pay their rent, got fired, or having relationship problems? The answer is probably no. We, humans, are afraid to tell these problems, yet these problems are universal and almost everyone is or has dealt with these before. Focus on your own problems and don’t look at other people their lives. No one’s life is the same. Everyone is walking a different path in life and has to deal with different obstacles during their life. Focus on your own projects and goals.
- Accept that success in life is not an upward trajectory, it is a journey that has a lot of peaks and downfalls. – A cliché expression that you might have heard is that life has a lot of peaks and downfalls. And that is true. We all have achievements in our life that are worth celebrating but at the same time, we also have to deal with the ugly things in life. Sometimes the loss of a loved one, a disease, losing your job, etc. can be the biggest obstacle in life that can take a while to recover from. Maybe months, maybe years. The most important thing is that you just take one step at a time and slowly get up.
I hope this post was helpful to you. I had thoughts where I felt like an imposter whether it was at my university or at my job. I had failures and setbacks that had me doubting my skills. But those setbacks and failures do not define me who I am as a person. I can learn from them and become a better person. One step at a time. And if I do receive another setback, I will get up again and move on.
Dear reader, if you feel like you are doubting your skills and your achievements, believe you are worth something. You do have something valuable to make this world a better place, even if it is something very tiny. Don’t underestimate yourself. Because you are not an imposter.
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