Have you ever succeeded at something but felt like you didn’t really deserve it?
Think about it.
Perhaps you were a very good student and you passed all exams with flying colors, but it was only because “the questions were far too easy, and you should have enrolled in a more competitive class anyway…”
Besides, you had supportive parents who raised you well and paid for your tuition. That’s an advantage most people don’t have, so it’s no wonder you did good. Right?
Or maybe you got into fitness and after a few years you got into the best shape of your life. Of course, it had mainly to do with your genetics and less with your actual effort…
After all, some of your friends worked their ass off but got nowhere because they aren’t as biologically inclined to build muscle as you are.
Or perhaps you had a few successful relationships, but it was either because you’re blessed with above average looks, or you simply got lucky again.
I am a programmer, and for a long time, I used to think that someday, someone will find out that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and that I somehow managed to sneak into doing this job and pretending to understand more than I actually do.
Every time my boss asks me the question I don’t know the answer to, I reply with “just a second, just let me finish this email…” and MEANWHILE I’m Googling to find out what the hell he’s talking about!
I still feel this way sometimes.
- I got kind of lucky, the circumstances aligned perfectly…
- The logistics were in my favour…
- If they find me out, I’m done…
- It’s got little to do with me, and more with… [fill in the blanks]
Does this way of thinking resonate with you?
If it does, you’re not alone.
In fact, this fairly common phenomenon is called the Impostor Snydrome.
It is the inability to take credit and internalize our own success. It’s the feeling as if we “don’t belong”.
Some research seems to indicate that well over 70% of all people are affected by this syndrome. It is particularly prevalent among high achieving women.
It forms early on in our childhood, as we observe our parents playing the roles of successful individuals from which we obviously differ in very fundamental ways.
While we were out digging holes and eating dirt in our backyards, they were drinking disgusting tasting liquids and sitting at the table for hours, talking about things we’ll never understand.
We’re very intimately aware of our bodily odors and our over-perverted thoughts, and that makes us very different from the rest of the “normal” people.
It is this inability to recognise that others are just as flawed and “human” as us that we often feel as “impostors”.
In other words, we know ourselves from the inside, and we can only know others from the seemingly polished “outside” surface area.
There is a famous quote by the 16th century philosopher Michele de Montaigne that goes:
“Kings and philosophers shit. And so do ladies.”
It is very important to understand this seemingly obvious truth. And when I say understand, I don’t mean logically grasp – I mean really understand, on a deep emotional level that we are no different from people who we perceive to be successful and worthy of their achievements and status.
We all have our demons, our doubts and insecurities, our feelings of lack and inequality. And we certainly all share a similar digestive process.
So how do we go about solving this issue?
For such a widespread phenomenon, there is actually very little information on how to go about solving this annoying self-sabotaging thought pattern.
The impostor syndrome is not classified as a mental disorder (thank God, because that would mean we’re all mental), which is why there are no definite psychological treatment methods for it.
It is much like jelaousy, or envy. The only way we can get rid of it is by becoming aware of it, and changing our relationship to it.
There are actually 5 steps for dealing with the impostor syndrome.
Step 1 – Become aware of it
Now that you’re aware what the impostor syndrome is, you will likely recognise it the next time it creeps into your mind and you start thinking thoughts like “I didn’t really deserve this” or “They overvalue my success”.
Step 2 – Make an “I am awesome” list
Make a list of all the reasons why you are awesome and achievements you’ve made. Put it on your mobile phone so you can carry it with you and remind yourself daily until you internalize it.
Step 3 – Interrupt the pattern
As soon as you notice the impostor syndrome, stop yourself. Kill the monster while it’s small. The earlier you recognise the pattern, the easier it will be to dismiss it. Stop your thinking process and then…
Step 4 – Play the devil’s advocate
Questioning creates doubt.
So instead of questioning whether you really are successful, question the assumption that you’re not!
Question your assumptions like your life depends on it. Ask yourself – “Am I 100% sure this was just pure luck?”, “Could it be that I was at least partly responsible for it?”
Step 5 – Remind yourself why you deserve to feel successful
Read 2-3 statements from you’re “I am awesome” list to remind yourself of your real worth.
The impostor syndrome will never fully go away, but becoming aware of it and having a proper framework to deal with it when it surfaces is very helpful.
After all, success is a subjective thing anyway. Success to one person means failure to another.
So decide that you are successful because no one can tell you that you’re not.
To your success,