When someone compliments you on your work, do you think: “Gosh, that was so easy; I guess they don’t really know what was involved?”
Do you worry that people might not want to work with you, if they REALLY knew you?
Do you constantly aim to project an air of competence and confidence, while on the inside you often feel anxious, tense and not-at-all confident?
If this is you, then you are suffering from what’s often called Imposter Syndrome. This afflicts talented, high-performing people at ALL levels of success! You so question your abilities and value that you discount others’ praise of yourself. You never feel truly satisfied with the quality of your work. You question what you’ve achieved and whether you truly merit your success.
It’s a hard way to live. I’ve been there, and I still visit here some days.
Imposter Syndrome in My First Job
In my 20’s and 30’s, I worked at a defense think tank where almost all my colleagues were older men with PhDs from MIT. I was a young woman with a MS in computer science from a public university. I questioned whether I was measuring up to the caliber of my colleagues. I believed that one day my Division Director would knock on my office door and say “Marcy, I’m sorry – there has been a big mistake. We didn’t mean to hire you. You’re fired.”
I felt this low-level dread EVERY DAY of my work there. That was draining! I never felt confident or worthy. Therefore I never felt truly successful, no matter my title, responsibilities or income.
I left the defense think tank to start my first entrepreneurial venture: a government contracting firm. The success I experienced there helped me grow out of my first phase of the Imposter Syndrome.
Here are 10 signs or symptoms of Imposter Syndrome.
Are you experiencing any of these?
You are incredibly self-critical.
You constantly focus on what you have NOT done, or what DIDN’T work. You dismiss what you have done or what has worked well. You find it hard to remember, much less discuss, your accomplishments.
You feel like you’ve never done ENOUGH.
When the only score you’re tracking is what is NOT done or NOT working, then of course, you’re going to feel like you’ve never done enough.
Most often, people with Imposter Syndrome are actually high-achievers (yes, even if you can’t see yourself here!). When a high-achiever feels like they’re not doing enough, your first reaction is “I just need to work harder.” Then you can get trapped in an endless loop of overworking, because you will never feel like you’re good enough, which dooms you (in your own mind) to investing more and more time into your work. That extra time often comes at the expense of your personal life.
You minimize your abilities and your value.
When people compliment you, you feel awkward. You dismiss their words and try to change the subject as quickly as possible. You don’t understand why they’re so impressed with you, because you are certainly not impressed with yourself!
You feel anxious about being successful.
You feel like you don’t deserve success. If you become successful, that means that either something is massively out of whack in the universe, or it’s a mistake. Once someone realizes it’s a mistake, your success will disappear. Just like me in my defense think tank days, where I was convinced that I was going to be fired, once my Division Director “realized” I wasn’t all he thought I was.
You tend to compare yourself to others, A LOT.
It’s hard to feel good about yourself from the inside; looking at how you compare to others might help you see where you stand. But wait – you always judge yourself as never-good-enough, so comparing yourself to others is always going to end badly for you!
You’re often in your head and NOT present with other people.
All of this: questioning your value, wondering how people are viewing you, criticizing yourself – takes up a lot of time and space inside your head. Which means you’re not fully present in the NOW. Instead of being 100% available to the person you’re with and your conversation with them, you’re observing them to figure out how they’re liking you. Instead of enjoying the beauty around you: the sights, sounds and smells, you’re engrossed in your own internal dialog.
You tend to go into people-pleasing mode.
Let’s say you want to convert a client into a prospect, win over your job interviewer, or get a raise. Since you question your value, you’re nervous about how the other person is viewing you. You don’t feel you can rely on your value to carry the day, so you bring on the charm. You want this other person to really, really like you, because simply being yourself is not going to be enough (in your eyes). That tends to put you into people-pleasing mode – you want to make them happy with you, so they’ll say Yes.
In your free time, you tend to do things that let you zone out.
Because you spend so much time feeling anxious and uncertain, you’re drained at the end of the day. Instead of having high-quality fun, like being with friends, pursuing a favorite hobby/passion, you may find you gravitate to mindless things (what I call low-quality fun) like spending hours of Facebook, playing computer games, reading or watching TV. These activities feel relaxing on one level (because they give your poor tired brain a break!) however, they’re not restorative. They don’t give you back more energy and vitality.
Professionally and financially, you’re just getting by.
You have some level of success because you work really hard and you are in fact talented and skilled. Yet in your best moments you KNOW you have so much MORE potential!
If you see yourself in this list of 10 Signs of Imposter Syndrome, then your confidence and your success are suffering.
Every day you labor under this syndrome is one more day you’re not fully expressing every bit of talent you’ve got! The world needs you, right now, just the way you are.
While you’ve got Imposter Syndrome, you can’t achieve your potential. This syndrome means that, instead of being 100% committed to success, you’re 100% committed to diminishing your value and to IGNORING any evidence to the contrary. You’re 50-60% committed to success.
If you’re ready to explore what IS possible for you, then I invite you to take your next step and learn what’s holding you back.