Do you ever feel like a fraud? Or that you are going to be ‘found out’? That you don’t deserve it? That you will inevitably lose it all? That you are not good enough to maintain your current, or any lasting, success?
Do you ever feel that you’d better get out or give up, because it will all fall apart soon enough?
No matter how well you do, it’s never good enough and you can’t own your success. You often give up at things you are good at so you don’t have to live up to the pressure and expectation. You self-sabotage as your own insurance policy against failure.
So they have a label for that, and it has become a ‘thing’.
‘Impostor syndrome’ (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological complex in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.
People often feel like an ‘impostor’ and unfairly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of tricking others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be. It’s interesting that this is not a mental disorder but almost has a label that sounds like it is.
The causes of this feeling include:
- lack of positive feedback about you or your work
- low self-esteem and confidence
- strong fear of failure, despite (m)any achievements
- feelings of inadequacy
- perfectionism paradox, where a desire for perfection leaves us dissatisfied with our actions or paralysed into inaction.
- high self-importance or unrealistic expectations that set up feelings of failure
- intellectual fraudulence (some actually do exaggerate so the fear of being found out is real)
- potential for public criticism, punishment or shame for making mistakes
- conditional worth or love, only gained through high achievement or success.
When I started investing in property, we had about five minutes to enjoy it, and then the epic recession of 2008 came. We saw investors and companies around us drop like flies. We were young and lean (in terms of overheads, not the six-pack kind), and although it was hard at times, it didn’t affect us anywhere nearly as badly as all the bigger players. We were one of the few companies left, and became relevant almost by default. The upside was that we learned a lot from those who struggled, we kept overheads low and stashed money away. But it did create some fears in us. Fears that it could happen to us next time, that we were lucky this time and that we didn’t deserve and hadn’t earned our elevated position.
It’s funny how we managed to find a downside to everything. These ‘impostor’ emotions served to keep us humble and hungry, and to remind us to plan well for future challenges and disruptions.
To further deal with and defeat your impostor feelings, try the following:
- Manage your self-importance and expectations so that they are better balanced or more realistic.
- Focus on giving value and helping others as a way to feel validated and worthy.
- Make a list of 50–100 great things about you and why you deserve success.
- Stop comparing yourself to others in an unbalanced manner.
- See all pursuits and successes as progressive tests rather than final destinations.
- Know that nothing you do or do not achieve defines who you are.
- The world needs your skills and talents so don’t deny people them by self-sabotaging.
- Get clear on your vision and legacy and how you want to be remembered
- If impostor syndrome gets loud, write it all down as personal therapy. This really helps you to sleep, too, if it taunts you at night.
- Know that nobody knows what you are thinking, feeling and fearing inside.
- Practise owning, thanking and being grateful for your victories, successes and compliments. Celebrate them!
- Ask for help and share your feelings with professionals, friends, advisors and mentors.
- Know that we are all struggling with self-worth, even your idols and huge celebrities
If you have these impostor emotions, naming them as external ‘things’ can compartmentalize them, and banish them as literal impostors that don’t have a space in your head. But beware of labelling them so much, however, that you give them an identity and start to take ownership of them. People can use labels as excuses and validations, which is not productive. There are a lot of podcasters, YouTubers and influencers throwing this label around, so be mindful not to label any flaw or failing in you as this, otherwise you could grow a two-headed monster. It’s a little gnat carrying a disease that you want to recognise and then squash immediately.
Each time a fear of being found out rears its butt-ugly head, think of all the things you will gain the more successful you are, and all the things you will lose by letting the impostor talk you out of your goals and self-worth.
The above is a chapter excerpt from my new book ‘I’m Worth MORE’.