What is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome, or impostor experience, is the lack of ability to internalise personal accomplishments and the constant fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” The term was first used in 1978 by psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. People with impostor syndrome dismiss success as luck, timing, or as a result of tricking others into thinking that they are more intelligent and competent than they really are.
Understanding Impostor Syndrome
The imposter syndrome is commonly found among high achievers or in high-pressure environments. Individuals who suffer from impostor syndrome believe that they are not intelligent and are fooling anyone who thinks otherwise. Psychologists have acknowledged the impostor syndrome as a specific form of intellectual self-doubt.
- Pauline Clance developed the Clance IP Scale to help people determine if their feelings are related to the impostor syndrome. In the Clance IP Scale, indicators include:
- I often succeeded in a test or task even though I was afraid I would not do well before I undertook the task.
- I can give the impression that I’m more competent than I really am.
- I avoid evaluations if possible and have a dread of others evaluating me.
- When people praise me for something I’ve accomplished, I’m afraid I won’t be able to live up to their expectations of me in the future.
Impact of Impostor Syndrome
The imposter syndrome can adversely affect an individual. Notably, here are some risks for those dealing with impostor syndrome:
- The impostor syndrome may impede career growth
Individuals with impostor syndrome may hesitate to consider applying for certain jobs for fear that they are not good enough.
- The impostor syndrome hinders leadership skills
Impostor syndrome is common among high achievers – they are hard on themselves and are their own worst critics. Therefore, it affects their leadership ability as they try to follow the crowd for fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
- The impostor syndrome instils self-doubt
People who deal with impostor syndrome will likely downplay their accomplishments. It fills the individual’s mind with self-doubt and a belief that their achievements are due to sheer luck.
Ways to Combat Impostor Syndrome
Here are some suggestions on how to combat the impostor syndrome:
- Accept uncertainty
Steer away from the “what-if” situations and only focus on the present.
- Stop striving to be perfect
Perfectionism and striving to be flawless provide unnecessary stress and anxiety. Recognise that nothing and no one is perfect and that problems will inevitably exist.
- Accept help from others
Chances are, those around you feel like an impostor as well. Reach out for help, discuss how you feel with those close to you, and recognise that you are not the only person with this feeling.
- Listen to and acknowledge compliments
Do not get fixated on negative feedback; embrace positive feedback, and internalise compliments by others.
- Do not attribute successes to luck
Attributing successes to fate undermines your abilities and your approach to life. Be grateful for your accomplishments and take ownership of your success.
- Believe that you are unique
Do not compare yourself to others, respect your own experiences, and understand that you are just yourself.
The impostor syndrome cannot be entirely eliminated, but there are ways to minimise the feeling of being an impostor. In a TEDx Talk by Lou Solomon, a CEO, author, and communications expert, he provides an insightful talk on the impostor syndrome.
Examples of Impostor Syndrome
Here are some examples of how a person who suffers from the imposter syndrome may feel or react:
Jonathan, an 18-year-old, graduated high school at the top of his class and is headed off to attend Stanford University. Jonathan feels terrified and convinced that the admissions department at Stanford has made a mistake and that he does not deserve to go to the prestigious university.
Sara is a leading researcher in corporate finance and frequently travels around the world to conferences and workshops. Recently, Sara attended a big conference. As introductions were taking place, Sara noticed other highly accomplished researchers. Despite being a prominent researcher in the field, she feels that she doesn’t belong, and others may call her out as a fraud.
Matt recently joined a boutique investment company as an analyst. Over the past couple of months, Matt received high praise from executive partners and the managing director. In fact, Matt had recently received a bonus for helping lead a cross-border mergers and acquisitions deal. When asked by colleagues regarding his success in the company, Matt attributes it to sheer luck.