I’m not sure I’m fully qualified to comment with any authority on the topic I’m about to discuss.
That’s a joke, by the way.
Only it’s not.
I’m talking about ‘imposter syndrome’ (IS), that gnawing hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach accompanied by your inner voice spitefully whispering;
“Who do you think you’re kidding?”
An ill-judged comment or clumsy feedback often scores a direct IS hit. Still, more often than not, it needs nothing more than our fears, and the ability to dangle our finger over our ‘self-destruct button’ to invite IS in.
I know because I, like a large proportion of the population, experience imposter syndrome.
It doesn’t matter that I remind myself of my many years' experience in HR and recruitment. It was my job to help people (often with low self-esteem) acknowledge their skills and achievements. It doesn't even matter that I now have impeccable credentials and qualifications in an entirely different field; along with that most valuable and satisfying of endorsements; scores of happy customers. In the moments that IS strikes, all reason evaporates, making way for an insidiously cold, lonely and self-defeating feeling. And, I’m sure I’m not the only person who deals with it badly.
You’re not alone
What do I and I’ll guess a lot of other people do when IS strikes?
We entertain this statement:
“Is this imposter syndrome, or I am just rubbish?”
Think about that for a few seconds.
Did that make you laugh?
If it did, good, hold on to that, laughter is very powerful.
Give yourself a round of applause!
If it gives you any comfort, the irony is that imposter syndrome tends to blight talented, high-achieving people. Even more ridiculously, when a friend or colleague says they suffer from IS, we're incredulous, reminding them they're amazing and have no business thinking like that.
We’re far less convincing when it comes to talking to ourselves.
I’m no therapist or psychologist, but I know that having a few simple strategies helps. I play raucous music; a friend uses perfume as pepper-spray to ward off her self-doubts, while another takes off on a run.
I’ve also heard of IS ‘pacts’, people calling each other for reassurance, and to drown out their inner critical voice with one of warmth, reason and encouragement.
These simple self-fixes aren’t going to be a long-term solution, but they may distract your thoughts long enough to get things back into perspective. There are tons of resources online – put 'imposter syndrome' into any search engine, and you'll get absolute proof of the scale of the problem. There's professional support you can call on too, including the NHS.
Looking on the bright side
There are some positives!
For a start, I’ve never met anyone who is a fellow IS sufferer who isn’t also:
B) Committed to producing the best quality work
C) Engaging, funny, and someone I can talk to
Then there’s the thing about it being a necessary evil. Without fear (what IS essentially is) we'd never have got this far. Conquering IS drives us to try harder and find the determination to prove ourselves wrong.
A form of Imposter syndrome is also one of the most successful advertising techniques ever employed. Take a look at a Volkswagen advert from the 1960s and '70s, particularly one for the iconic Beetle car, and you'll see what I mean. These adverts make spectacular use of a technique called the Pratfall Effect, which uses an aspect of IS to highlight the otherwise brilliance of the quirky, and loveable model that sold in its millions.
Finally, it happens to the best (and that includes you)! Reportedly crippled by imposter syndrome, it took the author, Douglas Bain, ten years to write his debut novel ‘Shuggie Bain’. The novel that’s just won the 2020 Booker Prize.
You really are good enough, you know?
A few simple things to try
I’ve tried lots of different techniques, including these simple strategies, which can sometimes be enough to bust me out of an IS fog. Give them a try, you never know?
· Write out positive affirmations and pin them up where you’ll see them at regular intervals during the day – I have them on my PC, my phone screen, above the kettle, and next to where my dog’s lead hangs.
· Google ‘successful people who suffer from IS’. We are not alone!
· Remind yourself about your journey - every ‘win’ matters, however small.
· Read one of your testimonials, reviews, happy emails, or messages of thanks every day.
· Visualise a time when you felt proud of yourself. Think about how you felt, and enjoy reliving that moment.
· Find a picture of yourself smiling, and smile back!
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