Afraid Of Being ‘Found Out?’ How To Overcome Impostor Syndrome

It is going to be discovered that I am an imposter and that my Twitter bio is a lie, that I am not, in fact, an artist manager, but rather a fraud. The fictional artist management police will knock down my door on a cold night and drag me out of bed to present me with evidence on how over the years I have conned my way into becoming an artist manager.

Logically and according to psychology, what is inducing me into this anxiety spiral is imposter syndrome, also known as imposter phenomenon. With a sense of irony, the syndrome mostly affects high-achievers, academics, intellectuals and women. It reflects a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure, despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful. It can also take various forms, depending on a person’s background, personality and circumstances. If you’re familiar with the feeling of waiting for those around you to “find you out,” it might be helpful to consider what type of impostor you are, so that you can problem-solve accordingly.

Expert on the subject, Valerie Young, who has done a TED talk on the topic, has categorized it into subgroups:

The Perfectionist

Perfectionists tend to set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up. Whether they realize it or not, this group can also be control freaks, feeling like if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves.

For this type, success is rarely satisfying because they believe they could’ve done it better. But that’s neither productive nor healthy! Owning and celebrating achievements is essential if you want to avoid burnout and cultivate self-confidence.

The Superwoman/man

Since people who fall into this category are convinced they’re phonies among real-deal colleagues, they often push themselves to work harder and harder to measure up. Imposter workaholics are actually addicted to the validation that comes from working, not to the work itself. Start training yourself to veer away from self-validation. No one should have more power to make you feel good about you than yourself! On the flipside, learn to take constructive criticism seriously, not personally.

The Natural Genius

People who struggle with this, who are also natural “geniuses,” judge success based on their abilities as opposed to their efforts. In other words, if they have to work hard at something, they assume they must be bad at it. These types of imposters set their internal bar impossibly high, just like perfectionists. But natural genius types don’t just judge themselves based on ridiculous expectations, they also judge themselves based on getting things right on the first try.

To move past this, try seeing yourself as a work in progress. Accomplishing great things involves lifelong learning and skill building for everybody. Rather than beating yourself up when you don’t reach your impossibly high standards, identify specific, changeable behaviors that you can improve over time.

The Rugged Individualist

This applies to those who feels as though asking for help reveals the phoniness that encapsulates them. It’s okay to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse assistance so that you can prove your worth. If you can’t figure out how to solve a problem, seek advice from a supportive supervisor, or even a career coach. Mentoring junior colleagues can be a great way to discover your inner expert. When you share what you know, it not only benefits others, but also helps you heal you fraudulent feelings.

The Expert

People who fall into this competence type may feel like they somehow tricked their employer into hiring them. They deeply fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable. Striving to grow your skill set can help make strides professionally and keep you competitive in the job market, but taken too far, the tendency to endlessly seek out more information can actually be a form of procrastination. Start practicing just-in-time learning. This means acquiring a skill when you need it, rather than hoarding knowledge for (false) comfort.

Regardless of which category (or categories) you fall under, here are some general tips to help you fight those fraudulent feelings:

  • – Write down a list of concrete, actual things you’ve accomplished. Whether it’s a university degree, a solo art exhibition, a published article, an artist booking, an amount of money you’ve fundraised for a cause… write it down. Remember, nobody can take those things away from you. You did that.
  • – Keep a file of positive things people say about you. Every time somebody leaves a comment on your blog or sends you a DM letting you know that you’ve helped them, take a screenshot and put it in your folder. If a boss gives you positive feedback or a good review, write it down and put it in the folder. If a friend sends you a text thanking you for the advice you’ve given them, save that in the folder. It’s easy to forget how much of an impact you can have on others. Collect your wins, testimonials, whatever they are, and then re-visit them when you’re feeling like a fraud.
  • – Say to yourself “that’s the imposter syndrome acting up” and it’ll immediately make the feeling a little less terrible.
  • – Find one person you can say, “I feel like a fraud” to. Being able to say that out loud to another person who can relate can be a huge help.
  • – Remember: being wrong doesn’t make you a fake. The best basketball players miss mosts of the shots they take. The best traders lose money on most trades. Presidents are wrong about stuff all the time. Losing is just part of the game, and while I wouldn’t recommend glorifying failure, don’t let it make you feel like you’re not a real contender either.
  • – Realize that you are constantly changing. As Michel de Montaigne once said, “There is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and others.” Your opinions change with new information, your obsessions and hobbies change, you are constantly growing into something different. You’re getting better. How? By trying to do something better than you actually can. That’s not a lie, that’s valor.
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