I want to talk to you about a little something called imposter syndrome — yikes.
It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t experienced it in one form or another. Still, I think it is fair to say that this very real psychological phenomenon has a unique hold over creatives, and especially creatives who have ventured out on their own to do their own thing.
Psychologists are unsure why imposter syndrome exists and what the origin is — and by that, I mean, whether it is behavioral or inherent — but what they are sure of is that it is very, very real.
Imposter syndrome can show itself in many forms. It is essentially this: imposter syndrome occurs when you have high achievers who are unable to celebrate their success, large or small. Does that sound familiar? It did for me too.
Experts say that those who experience imposter syndrome attribute luck to their successes instead of their own hard work or skill, and they exist in fear of being found out as a total fraud.
I have experienced this, and I am sure you have too, and it is not something we talk about very often. So I felt it would be important to talk about it here.
Imposter syndrome, though seemingly benign, can have real long-term consequences.
Psychologists have found that individuals who are unable to experience their achievements and celebrate their successes are much more likely to experience burnout. Celebrating your success, large or small, is a part of the process. This was news to me, as celebrating my achievements has often felt like a luxury. But, it is indeed a necessary part of recharging yourself and making sure that you are benefitting from the work you are putting out as much as others are.
Taking my own long-held experience with imposter syndrome into account, I came up with a few things that have helped me cope along the way. Here are four ways to better cope if you, too, are experiencing imposter syndrome.
1. Talk about it.
You’d be shocked at how common this experience is, and how many of your peers are experiencing it. Having an open discussion about what you are experiencing and seeing that you are not alone will help you recognized imposter syndrome for what it is — a psychological trick of the mind.
Take stock of the small and large accomplishments that have gotten you to where you are. This can be learning a new skill, overcoming a fear, establishing new connections, or hitting a goal you’d set a while back. While you’re at it, try to create a scrapbook of these accomplishments to look back on when imposter syndrome strikes. This can be digital or physical — for me, it is a folder on my desktop titled “wins” that I throw in little screenshots of my successes, whether they be tiny or big — so I can go back and sort through them when it feels like I am overcome by self-doubt.
3. Reject perfection.
Trying your best is good, great even, expecting perfection is not. Very likely, this will be a journey and not one swift step. Perfectionism is a pattern developed over time, but try your best to take small steps away from demanding perfection. At the very least, ask yourself why you expect that of yourself — is it an effort to prove you’re good enough? If so, something I try to keep in mind is what I would expect of others. If I’m demanding more of myself than I would of my peers, I try to scale back and be more reasonable with my expectations of myself. After all, expecting the impossible will only leave you disappointed and drowning in self-imposed doubt — the very thing we’re trying to avoid.
4. Let your expertise shine.
If your own expertise is something you are consistently doubting, try to find opportunities where that can shine. Early on in my career, my skill as a filmmaker was something I chronically doubted — I couldn’t even call myself a videographer or filmmaker until I had been working as one for years. Something that really helped me own my own expertise and experience was to start teaching. I did this by making tutorials — some good, some not so good — but through that process, I allowed myself to see tangible results of my experience. People were learning! Whether through tutoring, writing, sharing or presenting, try to seek opportunities to recognize the frequently invisible steps that have gotten you to where you are. And then, of course, celebrate that!
If imposter syndrome is something you’re experiencing, I hope these steps can help you to cope. And I hope you know that you are not alone. Imposter syndrome affects individuals of all industries and success levels and should not be interpreted as a real, honest reflection of who you are. If you find that imposter syndrome is consistently affecting your ability to perform or hindering your ability to cherish your successes, I encourage you to seek out a professional. I’ve found that process to be very helpful in fleshing out the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of it for myself, and how I can better manage it in my day-to-day.