What to do with your imposter syndrome
When achievements feel undeserving
Growing up, I struggled with imposter syndrome — that I wasn’t quite good enough, that all the awards and accolades I ever got were just one big mistake. It took me years to figure it out but after a good deal of personal reflection, I’ve come to resolve these feelings despite being completely competent in the eyes of others.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with imposter syndrome — here are 5 revelations that’s helped me over the past few years.
1. Learn to fail
Imposter syndrome often hits us the hardest when we get a promotion, win an award or gain recognition for something we don’t need to put effort into. The feeling of being a fraud is often the result of a mismatch between our perception and value on the award or reward and the expected effort and knowledge required.
When we expect the input for a specific outcome to be high and we expend very little to achieve it, we feel like a fraud — that we’ve somehow cheated without meaning to do so.
And perhaps we did.
I sit on the edge and wait for the day that it all falls apart. It’s not fun. It’s never fun. It fuels unneeded anxiety, stress and kicks me into a state of borderline depression.
But when I started to allow myself to fail on purpose — falling off the edge becomes a choice — and choice is often the thing that changes the perspective of everything.
Over the years, I’ve been reflecting on my past and feelings of being a fraud — that one day, I’ll be found out for it — that I don’t know as much as what people think I know or can do what others expect from me. There is an intense fear of failure that accompanies it in the background — with that failure being an unforgivable act. Imposter syndrome often occurs because I’ve been given a reward for what society sees as personal growth and learning — but not what I feel as intrinsically valuable to me.
2. Don’t take the easy path
Society tells us that we should work hard to achieve success. However, when awards and rewards are easy, it cuts us short of that experience.
When things seem to easy for us, it means that we haven’t failed to get to where we are. We’ve taken the easy road and accepted things as they come — then feel undeserving for them. There’s been no risk, no failure and therefore no actual personal improvement. What may be hard for someone else is easy for us.
We need to find the things that risk failure because it’s hard for us to achieve. Add a little resistance to life and challenge yourself to something outside your comfort zone.
3. Play your own game
We often find ourselves chasing the dreams of others. Often, we’ve accidentally internalized a certain persona or way we should be. But in reality, your inner self is craving something different. Despite this, you continue playing other people’s games anyway.
Because it’s easy.
Because you know the rules.
Because you know you can win without trying.
But when you play your own game, you have to go searching for things. You have to figure out the nuances and set your own rules. It’s foreign territory and that secretly scares. It’s easier to lay blame on others if things ever go wrong. It’s their rules after all — not yours.
4. It’s all about ownership
When you play your own game, you get to take ownership of your path. When you play other people’s games, you feel like a fraud because you don’t have ownership — whatever gains you get, it actually belongs to someone else — because it does belong to someone else.
So chase after your own dreams and goals. Figure out what you want and go after that. It’s usually something hard and something that’s often unattainable in our minds. Work for it. Sweat for it. Improve on your mediocrity. Set your own goals and rewards.
And when you get it, you’ll know that you deserved it.
5. Set your own metrics
Chances are, what you truly want is madness and illogical to others, your sphere of societal and relational expectations. We compare ourselves to others to get a sense of grounding and where we are.
But that comparison often skews our perception of reality. Imposter syndrome occurs when there is a mismatch between your real reality and expected reality based on the worlds of others.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the different kinds of metrics we set for ourselves. We make new years resolutions to do certain things, to be a certain way and to achieve a certain goal. Most of the time, we measure and compare ourselves to others.
When we measure ourselves using the metrics of others, we are assuming that our skill set, mindset, circumstances, physical and mental abilities are exactly the same as the other person.
And that’s where our issue lie — no one is exactly the same and we need to set our own metrics to measure ourselves with.
Feeling like a fraud often stems from not being wholly authentic to ourselves. We play pretend and when we get recognized for it, we shirk away in fear of being exposed.
Those who suffer from imposter syndrome are often harder on ourselves. We are capable of pushing ourselves further but often get sidetracked or distracted by the premature pats on the back from others. We are also most likely in the wrong places and spaces. This prevents us from thriving and internally we know it. That’s why we keep the persistent and internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.
A lot of writing and advice about imposter syndrome often talk about accepting your accolades and awards — but I say otherwise.
Accept them — yes. But to hold them on a pedestal of achievement? No. It’s in those moments of expected pride from others are the moments I feel like a fraud the most.
I only allow myself to celebrate once I’ve reached my own personal metrics — which for some may seem somewhat trivial or borderline insanity. But I need that match up of effort and achievement to feel deserving of myself.
Don’t interact with the reward or awards. Just accept it and move on. They’re someone else’s metric. Keep your eyes on your own ball. The more we dwell on the supposed success, the more we remove ourselves from our own journeys.