A twinge of nervousness swims around in my gut every time I hit publish on an article.
Most of the uneasiness comes from the worry that no one will read the piece, but another source of uncomfortableness stems from the thought that I’ll somehow be labeled a fraud.
I imagine this anonymous commenter picking apart my article, poking holes in my theories, and generally shooting down all of my ideas. This know-it-all in my mind is never a real person, just a combination of several people in my life who have repeatedly made me feel inferior. It is irrelevant whether they meant to make me feel this way or had no intention.
There’s a name for this fleeting but crippling internal crisis. It’s called imposter syndrome and it affects people in almost every profession.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’
The idea of imposter syndrome was first used by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. Imes and Clance initially thought the concept applied exclusively to high-achieving women.
Dubbed initially as “imposter phenomenon,” here’s an explanation of the idea from their abstract:
“The term ‘impostor phenomenon is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phoniness that appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women. Certain early family dynamics and later introjection of societal sex-role stereotyping appear to contribute significantly to the development of the impostor phenomenon.
Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.
Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief.”
Experts estimate that about 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome in their lives.
Signs of suffering from imposter syndrome
One of the reasons impostor syndrome is so damaging. A person will constantly think they’re not good enough, and even when they do well, they’ll attribute the success to other outside sources or factors.
This anxiety likely originated from early feedback that you were not very good at whatever someone else deemed you not very good at. These instilled core beliefs in you that are tough to change, even when there’s a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
In this article from VeryWell Mind, the author suggests answering these questions to determine whether imposter syndrome is a more significant issue than people realize.
A few of the imposter syndrome questions are:
- Do you agonize over even minor mistakes or flaws in your work?
- Do you attribute your success to luck or outside factors?
- Are you very sensitive to even constructive criticism?
- Do you downplay your own expertise?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, you’ve likely suffered from a few bouts – or a career filled – with imposter syndrome issues.
Every once in a while, I’ll get down on myself about my writing until I remind myself that I’ve written five books which are five more books than most of the world. As soon as I think about those books, I’ll remember back to how the first book opportunity came to be.
Picture it. Sicily, 1932.
Kidding. It was Florence, but not Italy, New Jersey. The year was 2008, and I’m working as a content editor for a local newspaper website and freelancing with AskMen. During that time in my writing career, editors often tasked me with writing the “counterpoint” to hot topics. Essentially, I got paid to shit on things that people loved.
I wrote an article titled “The Argument Against Yoga.” I had nothing against yoga personally and had never even taken one class at that point in my life. I handed in a 1000 word article about why men should never do yoga.
The article found its way to an editor of a book publisher. He loved the article and my contrarian but humorous point of view. He reached out about a book project that was close to being dead in the water and asked if I’d be open to taking a crack at a rewrite. A**holeology was published a year later.
For many years later, when retelling this story to friends, family, and in interviews promoting my books, I’d make the comment that being discovered by the publisher was just dumb luck, ignoring many vital facts.
- I needed to be a good enough writer to get a full-time job writing.
- I needed to be a good enough writer to get a freelance position with AskMen.
- I needed to be a good enough writer to have an article get passed around the internet and land on the computer of a publishing company employee.
- The article needed to be entertaining enough for him to consider me for the book project.
That’s a hell of a lot of work clumped into “luck.”
Imposter syndrome has followed me for my entire career, and it wasn’t until recently that I learned to shut up the imaginary critics in my head.
How To Deal With Imposter Syndrome
If you answered any of the questions above honestly, you’ve already won half the battle. You’ve acknowledged that imposter syndrome is an issue, but most problems occur inside your head.
Here are ways to combat IS the next time it comes creeping around.
Mr./Mrs. Know-it-All Doesn’t Exist
The voice inside your head isn’t a real person. The person coming to expose you as a fraud doesn’t exist. It’s the insecurities in your head. Do your best to pinpoint whom this voice belongs to.
Maybe it’s a parent, a close friend, a former boss, or a college professor. Perhaps it’s a combination of many people. Think back to where the negativity came from and attempt to put actual faces to the voice.
Once you do, tell yourself that person doesn’t know jack shit about and come up with real-life examples to back YOUR arguments.
You Don’t Know Everything and That’s OK
Do you know everything there is to know about your work, a field of stuff, or a passion project? No. Is that even possible? Probably not. Does someone else know more than you do? Of course. Does someone know less than you? Absolutely.
Admit that you don’t know everything and continue to be open to learning.
Give Yourself More Damn Credit
There’s a reason you’re successful in your chosen field. You have experience, knowledge, expertise, and many other intangibles. Cut yourself a damn break. Unless you’re the world’s most fantastic bullshitter, you got to where you are because of all those factors.
Remember, We’re All Imposters (To A Degree)
In my sophomore year of college, I took a class on Probability & Statistics. I failed miserably. A friend of mine in class was doing well. He went to see the professor and argued about a question on an exam. He was unable to convince the professor. He’s relaying the story to me and said, “It’s hard to argue with the guy. He wrote the damn book.”
At that moment, I took this comment to mean that the professor was an authority on the subject. It wasn’t until weeks later that I noticed the professor LITERALLY wrote the textbook we used in class.
This was a rare case when a person really did know a great deal about a subject, but I’d be willing to bet my tuition that deep down that professor probably battled a few imposter syndrome demons of his own.
We’re never going to know everything. It’s silly to think it’s even possible. The best course of action is to continue to learn, ask questions, admit you don’t know it all, and be confident in your work.
If that doesn’t work, assume everyone is just as full of shit as you.