How to Recognize & Relieve Your Imposter Feelings

“Imposter Syndrome” has recently been brought to my attention, and I must say, I feel a bit seen. By the sound of it, I imagine a dramatic reveal that all along everyone had been bamboozled. Maybe like in Scooby Doo when the crew pulls the mask off of the villain and the mystery is solved. As a kid this was never really satisfying to me because Velma, Shaggy, Daphne, and Fred would be like “of course! It’s so and so.”

Meanwhile, from my couch I had no leads, was unaware of this character, and therefore had suspected no one else but the monster I saw. The mask not only fooled me, but I felt like I knew the monster character much better than whoever was underneath it. I guess this is the point of masks—to change identities and be who others see. 

So Imposter “Syndrome” is the feeling that the life you lead is a lie. You may never feel qualified to do your job no matter how much experience or the degrees you have. It’s thinking “I’m just lucky” or “what if I’m not as smart as people think I am?” Sure, some people are lucky. Access and opportunities are distributed selectively. And sure, it can be scary to accept your own greatness because “where else is there to go but down”? Maybe other people will notice before you that you’re under-qualified, and how embarrassing!

Essentially the core is self-doubt and feeling underserving of your achievements. I suppose I could say some of my feelings of self-doubt have in part driven me to continue going to school. My deeper hope is that once I have a PhD I’ll finally have some kind of credibility or clue. Still, the more I learn, the more I see how much there is to learn. Sometimes it takes a checklist of everything I’m equipped to do to see that I am a human able to survive and ready to thrive.

I need validation like everybody else, but to avoid relying on it and instead stepping into my power and accepting my skill set and capabilities, I recognize a good amount of work that needs to be done. This work involves reflecting on my authenticity and assessing the steps I took/am taking to reach accomplishments. When I see the steps I can feel more accountable for each of them, then the end result. Once I monitor my self-deprecating thoughts, I can understand that yes, of course it’s me here doing great things. However, confidence doesn’t solve it all.

A great point from The Harvard Business Review is that plenty of people can have confidence yet not actually live up to it (be competent). I feel less like I’m wearing a disguise when I’m getting what I need and am able to speak with more authority and act with more certainty. This is tricky and an ongoing process of learning to live from the heart. I used to have difficulty with this idea, what it means to speak from or follow my heart. It’s taken me a long time to understand how this works, and there’s a certain amount of trust involved. I know I’m on my “heart path” when I notice synchronicity

Venetian masks help you to be whoever you want to be–cross class, cross gender

The other piece, as The Harvard Business Review points out, is that Imposter Syndrome implies that this is solely an individual’s issue when it’s not. Many of what seems like our “personal problems” are partially imposed by societal and cultural levels. This isn’t to say we should blame other people or not be accountable for ourselves and our challenges. Instead, its about considering the bigger picture and how we as individuals fit into it. It takes groups of individuals to make culture and society, so how are you contributing to those larger, macro levels?

On the other hand, it’s certainly valid to feel like society and culture were not built for your achievement—it’s far from equitable. Supposedly this occurs particularly for women. The point here is that while say for instance I’m feeling unfit for my job despite my recent promotion, this is not only my personal “syndrome” I need to work through in myself, but a recognition that the environment has flaws as well. We might ask, is my workplace fostering my growth? In what ways am I supported? Who is the typical face of success? What might I be reacting to? 

And finally, is it really a “syndrome” at all? Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant who I love to learn from, talks about how for many people feeling like an imposter is enough motivation to try harder and to learn more. If we’re overconfident we don’t feel like we have anything else to learn, and that puts a lid on our capabilities. Like everything else, having a balance of confidence with motivation to keep learning is important.

Go ahead, pinch your cheek. Do you wear a disguise, or is it time to acknowledge your own greatness? If you like this page, please share it.

Reference:, photo from Canva

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