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.