We’ve all been there (well, most of us): you’re sitting in a meeting, or standing on a stage, or having a pretty serious conversation, or looking at a proposal or application, or walking into an office (yours or someone else’s) or maybe preparing a presentation and suddenly, you feel like someone is going to find out you’re not who you say you are.
You’re afraid that at some point, you’re going to say something that will make people realize you don’t belong in that room. Suddenly, you’re overwhelmed with the feeling that you’re quite simply, not adequate, skilled or talented enough.
My notebooks (red or not) and journals are filled with dozens of entries in which I question my capability, worth or authority in something, even though I am deeply aware that I am where I am because I have consistently proven my capability, worth and authority.
“Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.”
― Maya Angelou
The Impostor Syndrome is real
, and it cripples us by making us question our adequacy, and making us think we are frauds or impostors. And ironically, it affects the most capable people, in stark (and hilarious) contrast to the Dunning-Kruger effect
, a bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability and superiority.
For many people, the impostor syndrome can be a huge driver for growth and success, because it pushes us to always be better tomorrow than we are today. But that can also cause constant dissatisfaction with our current state, creating an endless cycle of doubt and restlessness.
The 5 Types of Impostor Syndrome
The perfectionists who set very high goals and will never be satisfied with their achievements, even when they actually achieve those goals. They always feel like they could have done better.
The Superheroes who never feel adequate amongst their peers, so they push themselves to do more to feel valued, to stand out or to measure up to their colleagues.
The Experts who believe they don’t and can never know enough to be an authority, often turning down promotions, or other engagement offers to the detriment of their growth and professional development.
The Soloists who feel like asking for help may reveal their weaknesses, so they prefer to work alone within their productivity comfort zones. For these people, working alone proves their capability.
The Natural Geniuses who, like perfectionists, set their goals pretty high, but also judge themselves on their inability to do things “naturally” with ease. If something it takes too long, they feel like they’re not good enough, even if they’re executing the task well.
So, Why Do People Have Impostor Syndrome?
Well, this is a tough one. A lot of it is outside of our control, like our work environment, discrimination and negative reinforcement from the people around us. Some high-performance workplaces, environments, groups or communities can exacerbate our impostor syndrome.
Additionally, like the Jonah Complex
- which we discussed in an earlier newsletter
- the cause varies tremendously, ranging from the quirks in our own personalities to family upbringing.
From The Times: There’s no single answer. Some experts believe it has to do with personality traits—like anxiety or neuroticism—while others focus on family or behavioral causes, Ervin explains. Sometimes childhood memories, such as feeling that your grades were never good enough for your parents or that your siblings outshone you in certain areas, can leave a lasting impact. “People often internalize these ideas: that in order to be loved or be lovable, ‘I need to achieve,’” says Ervin. “It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.”