What is Imposter Syndrome?
Ask an expert and they'll probably tell you that Imposter Syndrome is a feeling of inadequacy and the internal belief that you are not as competent as others think you are. Ask me and I'll tell you it's like having to constantly watch your back in the fear that someone eventually sees the truth and calls you out for the fraud that you are.
In a world where social media practically dictates our lives, it's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else is happier, more successful, fitter or prettier than you. As a creative specifically, there've been so many times where I've compared myself to other artists wondering why can't I paint like them, why do they have triple the amount of followers I have despite having started later than me, why do they seem to be able get so much more done than me in a day? The list goes on.
I've come a long way in my experience of dealing with Imposter Syndrome and there are a couple of things that have helped me through it. But before I get to that...
My Imposter Syndrome summed up in one question
Back in 2019, I hit such a low during one of the craziest seasons in my 9-5 job. I had known in my gut for a while that the role I was in wasn't for me. It was in Marketing, yes, but it was in a context I had no passion for. I was working for a startup in its growth stage so obviously, the targets were high and the expectations even higher. I questioned my capabilities every single day, wondering if I was cut out for this. I mean, my (not so) dear friend, Imposter Syndrome, had shown up in my life before but this time, it was like it brought reinforcements. A lot of reinforcements.
It got so bad to the point that one day I just turned to my husband and asked him flatly, "What if I don't have any strengths?" I wasn't even being sarcastic or speaking rhetorically. I presented it as a question but really what I was saying was, "I don't think I have any strengths" because that was what I truly felt in my heart; like a fraud that didn't belong where I currently was.
What made it worse was that I couldn't imagine anywhere else where I would, either.
How to throw out the pudding (You'll see what I mean)
Here's the thing about Imposter Syndrome: it follows you. Even after I left my job, it didn't leave me. In fact, it summoned its greatest weapon; proof. "You quit...again. See, I told you you wouldn't be able to do it. You're not good enough. The proof is in the pudding." And I'll be honest, there were days when I would eat of that metaphorical pudding, believe the lies and wallow in self-pity.
I knew I needed to throw that pudding out. It left a bad taste in my mouth (as all lying puddings do) and I knew that if I didn't take control of this Imposter Syndrome, it was going to take control of me.
Note: A little disclaimer before I get into the 'hows' that helped me: I won't claim to know everything about Imposter Syndrome nor that I have completely overcome it. I actually don't think I ever will and I'm happy to keep it that way but more about that later. For now, these are just the methods I use to help me keep it all in check and even leverage it to my favor.
1) Identify your triggers
If you are anything like me, there are probably certain things/people/situations that trigger those feelings of self-doubt. For me, social media- specifically Instagram- was my Kryptonite. Scrolling through pictures and videos of my friends who looked like they were crushing it in life while I was, well, not, made me want to eat of that cursed pudding all over again.
But alas, thank the gods of Instagram who created the Mute function which allows you to still be following someone but not have to see their posts or stories. So into that bucket some of my friends/acquaintances went. It may sound dramatic but it was necessary, at least until I could get a better grip of my feelings. To be clear, it wasn't that I thought my friends (or that celeb whose movies I have never watched but who seems to have an ah-may-zing life) were to be blamed. Everyone has the right to share their wins and successes- and they should! I just wasn't in the right frame of mind to be able to lift someone else up without tearing myself down. If you don't feel comfortable doing what I did, try a digital detox instead. Even if just for a day. I promise, Instagram will still be there tomorrow.
Maybe you don't know yet know what your trigger(s) are and that's okay! Pay a little closer attention the next time that inner voice that calls you an imposter shows up. What were you doing/watching/listening to? Identifying your triggers doesn't solve the problem but it does get you a step closer to the goal.
2) Know your truths
Every time Imposter Syndrome manifests with its lies, simply chanting 'that's not true' repeatedly while telling it to shut up isn't going to help. Trust me, I've tried. Instead, be like David Copperfield. You know, the magician. And what do all great magicians do so well? They divert attention. They get you to focus on something else as they pull a trick from up their sleeve (sometimes literally). So when those lies start creeping in, divert your attention to the truth instead. Profess it and claim it.
I can almost hear some of you saying, "But I don't know what my truths are!". Then turn to the ones you trust the most. Your nearest and dearest family and friends who can speak those truths into your life. Give yourself the permission to take it all in as they tell you how strong, capable, kind and (insert good trait here) you are. Then string your truths together into a sentence you can repeat. Your very own mantra, if you will. You can even use a quote that resonates with you. In my case, I find Bible verses very helpful. Even if you don't fully believe in your truths yet, stick with them because here's one truth I am 100% sure of; that every person has awesomeness built into their DNA and that includes you.
3) Celebrate wins - even the small ones
Okay, I have to be honest here. I'm pretty much writing this one for myself because it's still something I'm learning to do. When I hit goals or targets that I've set, I give myself a 5-second pat on the back for a job well done and immediately move on to the next thing I want to work on. But acknowledging your wins and the effort it took to achieve them is so important. Life gets busy and it's so easy to go from one project to the next but when you can appreciate how far you've come, it not only helps you realise just how capable you are but it also gives you the motivation to keep going. Plus, it comes in handy for those down days when the Imposter Syndrome is strong because you'll be able to remind yourself that you do indeed kick butt and you have the proof to show it.
What I've been doing to get better at this is to set aside time at the end of each month to do a little review to acknowledge and celebrate the things that went well in business and in life. You could do it quarterly or half-yearly, just don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back (preferably for more than 5 seconds).
4) Daily gratitude check
I don't know about you but when I am in a state of gratitude, it's just harder to dwell on how "imperfect" I am. When you have Imposter Syndrome, you become a master in the Art of Comparison and suddenly everyone else is better than you. But I've found that being intentional and setting aside time every morning to come up with 3 things I'm grateful for allows me to reframe my mindset so I focus on the good that is already present in and around me. Sometimes, my gratitude list consists of big things like hitting a business goal/target (see point 3) and other times, it's as simple as remembering the great call I had with a girlfriend.
Trust the process
After all's said and done, I believe the 2 key things you need to be able to take control of Imposter Syndrome are Intentionality and Consistency. Trust that these things take time, offer yourself some grace and remember that as long as you're making progress in the right direction, you're doing great.
Imposter Syndrome doesn't ever disappear. In fact, I don't think I'd want it to vanish entirely either. Managed properly, it becomes like your annoying competitor in class (you know, the one whose grades are always tied with yours in almost every subject) that keeps you grounded and pushes you to work harder. If we take control of our Imposter Syndrome and not the other way around, I believe that we can use it to our favour. As leverage that pushes us forward and drives us to do better, be better. After all, the goal in life isn't perfection, it's progress.