Overcoming Imposter Syndrome--It's a Real Thing!

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

A couple of years ago, I read about Imposter Syndrome, and it explained so much.

Erin Weatherhogg/Imgflip
Erin Weatherhogg/Imgflip

It sounds like something someone spontaneously made up as a joke, but it's a real phenomenon--you know it's real because its name is written using Capital Letters.

Imposter Syndrome is that feeling many of us have that we're not really qualified to do what we do, and we don't deserve the success we've had with it.

For me, it usually sounds like this in my head: I'm not really a writer, I'm just pretending to be. (which is an easy trap to fall into when you're independently published) -or- This is supposed to take skill; if someone like me finds it this easy, I must not be doing it right.

It sounds like an extreme form of insecurity, and one could reasonably look at it that way. But the reality is that it's something many otherwise perfectly confident individuals experience every day. They feel like they just "got lucky," that they somehow "fooled" everybody into falling for some fake persona.

Think about your favorite sport. Chances are, you've heard players during interviews (especially immediately after a big win or accomplishment) say something like, "It doesn't feel real." "I can't believe this is my life." "I never thought this would happen to me."

That's not necessarily Imposter Syndrome rearing its ugly head--though chances are, in some cases, it is--but it's a perfect demonstration of the fact that even the most recognizably successful people in the world can be blown away by their own success and have a hard time believing that it's real and that they deserve it.

Does any of this sound familiar? It will to many people.

The American Psychological Association illustrates Imposter Syndrome perfectly:

William Somerville has always been a good student. In high school and college, he looked forward to taking tests and writing papers — objective measures of success gave him a chance to prove himself. But as a PhD student in clinical psychology at The New School in New York City, he began to doubt his abilities. Now he wasn't just studying to make the grade, but actually leading therapy sessions with patients in a hospital psychiatric unit. "I felt, what gives me the right to be here?" he says.

But there are some ways to combat those feelings of inadequacy that Imposter Syndrome invokes:

  • Take a minute and think about what it actually took to get to where you are in your career. You had to have done it somehow, right? If you don't believe me, just try and walk into a place of business and actually fake your way into a position of success there. Try becoming, say, the President of the United States without any qualifica- ... Ok, bad example, but you get my point. Sit down and write out a list of yours, if you need to. You've made it this far--whether you're just starting out in your field or managing 1,000 employees--because you earned it!

  • Keep an Imposter Syndrome diary. I know, it's much more fun to keep a dream diary--or write about all the boys you like (I can't possibly be the only one who still does that. R- right?) Harvard Business Law points out that "Awareness is the first step to change, so ensure you track these thoughts: what they are and when they emerge." If you can establish a pattern, you can begin anticipating when these moments are going to pop up and preempt them by reminding yourself of the above.

  • Don't just focus on your qualifications, take a look at the accomplishments themselves and the work you put into achieving them. For me, this often involves Googling myself (do this at your own risk) and seeing my work all over the internet, available in obscure places you might have heard of, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the iBookstore. They're not just available, but they sell. They're not exactly flying off the shelves like Harry Potter (yet), but people have read my work and continue to be interested in it--as evidenced on Inkitt when I was late posting part two of my Sons of Kings trilogy (a project five and a half years in the making and counting) and had numerous readers messaging me, eager for the next installment. I bet you too have plenty of evidence of your own competence that you might often overlook.

  • Talk about it with others. You're not fishing for compliments here. You're simply being frank about a momentary lapse in confidence--and there's a good chance the reply will go something like this: "That happens to you too? I thought it was just me!" Knowing that others have been there normalizes something that often feels like it's a problem with you and you alone--when it's not. If this happens to a whopping 70% of people at one point or another, as stated in that NBC News article up there, it must be normal.

We can't all be imposters, can we?

Come visit me over on Inkitt and check out Sons of Kings: The Siege (free to read on Inkitt), then read part two, The Exile, as I release each chapter as they're finished. Feel free to leave a review--I'd love to hear what you think!

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