I’ve met, throughout my years of working and traveling abroad, hundreds of talented men and women with unparalleled skills, class, and intelligence. Even still, many of them are plagued with nagging inner voices that demean their good work, and constantly tell them that they are not deserving of any accolades that come their way. These men and women feel like “imposters”—like mediocre individuals who, due to some stroke of luck or even a mistake, were unfairly catapulted to the positions they occupy today.
“You don’t deserve this,” their inner voices will say. “You’re not all that great at this. How did you even get here?”
If this sounds familiar, you may be suffering from imposter syndrome, a form of anxiety which prevents even the most successful people from realizing their full potential. It doesn’t matter how successful, intelligent, capable, or deserving you are; studies have shown that even the most high-achieving individuals can suffer from this inability to internalize and accept their own successes.
In the 1970s, psychology professor Pauline Rose Clance saw that her students—“these people who had gone to the best schools… had highly educated parents and excellent standardized test scores… [were] saying things like, ‘I’m afraid I’m going to flunk this exam.’ ‘Somehow the admissions committee made an error.’” Maya Angelou herself—one of the greatest and most iconic figures to grace the planet with her extraordinary writing, once admit, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”
The consequences of imposter syndrome? Shying away from a promotion at work and letting a “more deserving” candidate take the job. Letting that deadline for the short story contest you’ve always been meaning to enter—pass. Spending hours watching television instead of opening that notebook and writing the article you were always meant to write. Think about it, for a moment: What would the world of literature be if Maya Angelou gave in to the paralyzing effects of imposter syndrome and tossed her notebook to the side?
“Imposterism,” as some call it, affects almost everyone to varying degrees. Some individuals have learned to adopt an almost inhuman level of confidence in their work (if that’s you, I’m jealous!), while others have learned to live with their imposter syndrome and slowly fade its effects on their lives.
So how do you get over imposter syndrome? Well—most often, you don’t. Imposter syndrome is natural and even a bit beneficial when experienced in healthy doses. It allows you to maintain a sense of humility about your work, and can perhaps make you more likely to seek out mentorship and collaboration. If “imposterism,” however, is making it excruciatingly hard for you to achieve all that you’ve set out to do, here are a few exercises that can make it easier for you to embrace the badass that you really are.
- Start a journal to highlight your daily achievements.
Bullet journals are becoming all the rage these days—and for good reason. They allow you to organize and externalize your thoughts, including all the memories of accomplishments, successes, and triumphs that all too often fade into the hazy distance.
Take a couple minutes each day to write down your achievements, large or small. Made it through a grueling client meeting? Write that down. Washed all the dishes, in one go? Definitely write that down. In time, you’ll have a record of all the ways—however “minor”—you’ve made a difference.
- Make time for yourself, every single day.
A big, debilitating aspect of imposter syndrome is the belief that we don’t deserve nice things, that we are imposters who are wrongfully taking up precious space. Setting up a nighttime or morning routine that prioritizes your well-being and your happiness can help you see yourself as an individual worthy of care and attention.
Set aside thirty minutes every morning to finally read that novel that’s been sitting idly on your reading list, or dedicate fifteen minutes before bed to coloring in an art therapy coloring book. The little things matter!
- Practice mindfulness, meditation, and reflection when the going gets rough.It was the worst of times, and it was… still the worst of times. At least that’s what human beings tend to think; our well-documented negativity bias makes us more sensitive to negative news, which means that we let positive memories of our accomplishments fade into the background while we endlessly mull over negative memories of failures and disappointments. Practicing meditation and reflection, either through a journal or through a meditation app like Headspace, can help you stay focused on the subjects that really matter to you, and help you put perceived failures into perspective. Life isn’t always peachy, but it’s not always doomsday either! Seeing the whole picture will push you to take stock of all of your strengths and areas for improvement—and allow you to embrace yourself as a complex and worthy human being.