Imposter Syndrome: Dealing with the Doubt

Finding Your Inner Voice

by Jessica Johnson

Contrary to what the news headlines say, millennials aren’t high schoolers or fresh college grads settling into their entry-level jobs. We are moms and managers, we are grad students, and, in some cases, we are the teachers. On paper, millennials are killing it. However, as we young professionals move up and along in our careers, there’s sometimes an invisible weight that drags us down. That weight is imposter syndrome.

When psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes created the term “imposter syndrome” in 1978, who knew how accurately it would describe such a mishmash of emotions? Officially, imposter syndrome is “internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable, or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” In layman’s terms, imposter syndrome is an acute form of anxiety that says one thing: You shouldn’t be here and everyone is going to find out.

The hardest thing about imposter syndrome is its sneakiness. Imposter syndrome tells you that this job is going to suck before you make it through the first hour of your first day. Imposter syndrome almost kept this article from being written. Even after this article has been published in several prominent publications, maybe one day the editors will notice a typo and never reply to a pitch again or the audience will move on once they realize how awful I am at this (so glad you are here, so please keep reading).

What makes imposter syndrome so hard to navigate is that it’s difficult to pinpoint the source. Many people feel like imposters as the first one in their family to attend college or as the newbie on the sales floor or as the only woman in the C-suite. The doubt gets entrenched because you aren’t sure if your feelings are valid (that is, your co-worker is sabotaging you to the boss) or if you’re just uncomfortable in your new place or role. This lying anxiety eats away at your confidence like a very hungry caterpillar until you don’t even think being a butterfly is possible. When the joys of present achievements are eclipsed by the shadows of past fears and failures, nothing makes progress harder to achieve.

If any of the feelings above describe how you feel inside, you may be suffering from imposter syndrome. As you can imagine, not much good comes from succumbing to your fears. The next time you think you don’t belong, take a step back and ask yourself why. A great Twitter philosopher (who was probably a bot) once wrote: the best way out is through. Work through your feelings. Find a professional community and share what’s bothering you. Write down your fears and line them up against your accomplishments. You’ll be surprised at how far you’ve really come.

So the next time you feel the self-doubt creeping up your spine, take a deep breath and remember you were given your assignment for a reason. So give yourself permission to affirm how great you’re doing. Someone has to.

6 Comment

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  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I am the mother of 4 boys with autism and I am a STRONG ADVOCATE for them. Searching for and always asking for the best for my sons. I enjoyed reading th

  2. Great read! Just when I was beginning to feel like an imposter. I am inspired to go for my goals. Please keep writing.

  3. Thanks for this. I am a Baby-Boomer, but even I can relate to this article. My husband suddenly passed away last year (almost 2 years now) after 35 years of marriage. Strangely, before he passed he read the last of the 3 books I have written. He told me that the last one was my best work, and I agreed with him. But now I feel like I can never write again. I feel as though my writing career is over, before it started.

  4. Great information. I feel there is something in me that is creative not sure how to let it out. I started writing very short poems or sayings that come to me my feeling or thinking about a life event. I’m uncomfortable about really focusing on this not sure if I’m really good at it or not. I’ve been a office 9-5 paper pusher.

  5. I recommend everyone to get into meditation and you will find peace with life and yourself, practice yoga.

  6. Such a good read. Funny I didn’t know what felt had a name. Also, I made a list of my fears, compared them to my accomplishments and it helped me realize just how far I’ve come. So proud of myself even if will never be appreciated or acknowledged from others.

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