Have you ever thought or said, “I’m not as capable as other people think I am” or “I have to be perfect to feel good enough”? Do you feel inadequate, no matter how much you achieve? Maybe you believe your success is due to luck, rather than true personal ability, or it will only come with an extraordinary amount of hard work…?
If your answer is ‘yes’, then you are in good company. Most of us, including high achievers, have experienced self-doubt or a lack of confidence in ourselves. This is known as Imposter Syndrome. It’s an internal experience of not believing we are intelligent, capable, or creative, despite external evidence, or feedback to the contrary.
Imposter Syndrome doesn’t discriminate, though some research suggests it may affect immigrants more than other groups. As an immigrant, experiencing cultural, language and employment barriers, it’s easy to feel insecure, or dismiss our credibility, especially when we compare ourselves to non-immigrants, or those with more Canadian experience. It’s not surprising we can struggle to find our place, to feel like we belong. Add to this, our perception of success might be different to our family’s definition, based on their beliefs, expectations and understanding of our work and lifestyle. When we don’t get the validation or feedback from those closest to us, it can lead us to feel vulnerable, inadequate and unsupported.
You may find that your Imposter feelings are situational. For example, you may feel it in your work, your academic achievements, parenting or other relationship, sports, or other recreational pursuits.
Due to the way our brain is wired, it’s human nature to focus on the negative. It’s natural to overlook the positive feedback and focus on what we lack, what we haven’t been able to achieve, our flaws and imperfections. We may respond to Imposter Syndrome in several ways:
Work harder – we may over-prepare, overwork, work in isolation, set ourselves high (usually unrealistic), expectations, all of which is stressful, especially if we fall short. Perfection is time consuming, rarely satisfying and often results in overwhelm and burnout.
Procrastinate – we are reluctant to step out of our comfort zone, step up to a challenge or try something new. We may decline, or even avoid, opportunities because we don’t think we’re ‘ready’ or worthy. This can happen especially when we compare ourselves to others who we perceive to be ‘better than’ us in some way e.g., more successful, experienced, or knowledgeable. A fear of failure or making mistakes can also keep us from making progress.
Underperform – if we feel like a fraud e.g. we accepted a job that is unfamiliar and there’s lots we don’t know, we may self-sabotage due to our lack of self-belief and confidence. We may not feel safe speaking up, asking for help, or admitting we don’t have the answers or solutions to a problem.
Distract and comfort ourselves – usually to feel better about ourselves we seek out ‘quick wins’ that will give us immediate pleasure. This could be using food, alcohol, TV, social media, computer games or exercise, hobbies, meditation, sleep etc.
While it might be impossible to totally eliminate Imposter Syndrome there are ways we can manage these feelings when we recognize they are holding us back:
Accept Imposter Syndrome for what it is: ‘faulty thinking’.
These thoughts exist in your head and as such can be changed, with some practise over time. Separate thoughts (perception) from facts (reality).
Challenge the truth of your assumptions. Get curious and be prepared to re-think.
Talk openly about how you are feeling. Good leaders recognize vulnerability as a strength in this country. Practice being vulnerable with someone you trust, who can relate.
Be self-compassionate rather than self-critical. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come and how much wisdom you have.
Worry less about other peoples’ perceptions of you – you cannot control what they think or feel.
Avoid comparing yourself with others. You only see their highlights, not the whole picture.
The truth is, we are all a ‘work in progress’ – imperfect and incomplete.
We are perfectly flawed and that’s what makes us the unique human beings we are.