Impostor Syndrome Among Us: A Shameful Little Secret that Keeps People From Realizing Their Full Potential

A child psychologist once explained no time spent playing was ever wasted. As a mother, this statement is truer than ever. My seven-year-old’s favorite game is Among Us. It is a social deduction game where players try to figure out who the “impostors” are first (basically, a 1980’s throwback of the sleepover game Mafia, except you are little rainbow-colored astronauts).

Among Us Impostors
Image Attribution: https://www.npr.org/2020/11/12/931304349/among-us-its-every-little-space-sausage-for-themselves

The great irony is this game is practiced among adults under a different name, the impostor syndrome, as they pretend to be something they’re not (yet) in order to progress.

What is Imposter Syndrome? 

Impostor Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which a person doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments with a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Simply put, it’s severe self-doubt. And it’s not role-playing or the fake-it-till-you-make-it mentality that is detrimental, it’s the fear and accompanying anxiety and depression keeping people from trying.

Denise Posse-Blanco Lindberg, retired Supreme Court law clerk and judge for the third district court of Utah, explains impostor syndrome as, “a shameful little secret we hold to ourselves” and that “it is only when we bring it out when we talk about it, and confront it with reality and validate each other [that] we help each other deal with and confront and boost each other up, not by false praise, but by kindly pointing out fact.”

 

Stop Buying Into The Narrative That You’re Never Enough

Ten years ago, I found myself applying for a new job. During the interview process with senior executives, I was asked which of the three key responsibilities I felt least confident about. At the time, I was least confident about my writing skills. But this didn’t hold me back. When I was hired, I enrolled in a master’s program and completed a degree in Technical Communication from the English Department of Utah State University.

More recently, I was given a stretch assignment inaugurating a new day for building relationships with key influencers throughout my organization. I knew the landscape well, but I hadn’t previously personally taken on a responsibility of this magnitude.

Instead of giving in to fear or self-doubt, I learned as much as possible about the objectives, the audience’s needs, and earned the necessary credentials (including a Pragmatic Marketing certificate) to successfully launch and manage a global CRM on an industry-leading platform.

What you might not know about impostor syndrome is that it’s actually not a syndrome (i.e., it’s not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)). It’s actually a phenomenon first coined by doctors Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978.

A phenomenon that is based on irrational fear.

So, stop buying into the narrative that you are never enough. You are adequate and your potential is limitless. Stop feeling like you have to be overqualified before even considering whether to apply for a new job. You are adequate. Instead, seek opportunities for growth to turn competence into confidence.

 

There 5 Effective Ways to Decrease the Feelings of Fraud:

1. Separate Feelings From Facts 

The essence of imposter syndrome is feeling like you don’t belong, you’re not good enough and everything you’ve achieved was simply luck. But that’s just how you feel. It’s not the objective reality. Feelings and facts don’t always align and that’s especially true when it comes to imposter syndrome.

One strategy to focus on facts is to make a list of the work you’ve accomplished and the things you know. For example, you might know how to design a website or maybe you’ve written 50 articles. It’s objectively true that you have skills and when you recognize them as true without devaluing them with feeling like you’re not enough, then you’re on the right path to overcoming imposter syndrome.

2. Accept positive feedback 

Rather than discounting or dismissing positive feedback. Humbly say, “Thank you.” If your accomplishment was a team effort say, “Thank you and I’m working with a great team” or something similar. Conversely, humbly invite and create a safe space for people to respond with improvement suggestions.

3. Develop a growth mindset 

Instead of secretly doubting yourself, remain curious about the world. Ask questions. Seek answers. Do this over the course of a lifetime through formal and informal education to establish a growth mindset to grow competence into confidence.

4. Recognize what you do well 

None of us knows everything. Even those who are experts in their field have room to grow and develop. Yet, there are some things you do uniquely well. Focus on those things and apply them to accumulate new experiences and skills.

5. Choose what not to do 

Instead of burning out or becoming emotionally exhausted, we need to learn to prioritize our goals. In his new book,The Leader Within Us: Mindset, Principles, and Tools for a Life by Design, author and experienced mentor Warren Rustand suggest all of life’s demands fit squarely in four buckets: work, family, community and self. Rustand recommends writing down your top goals for each category and setting a date for each goal to revisit to stay focused on the things you want to accomplish most.

Instead of giving sway to this trend-of-the-day, humbly recognize our weaknesses for what they are and apply a growth mindset to do something productive about it. Nearly a century ago Dale Carnegie, author of How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, said, “Everybody in the world is seeking happiness – and there is one sure way to find it. That is by controlling your thoughts. Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions”

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Candianne Haacke

Candianne Haacke

Candianne Haacke is a senior associate in the communication department at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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