The Impostor Syndrome was first acknowledged in the 1970s. People who have it do not accept their own accomplishments, dismiss them as luck or timing and believe they are deceiving the outside world. It is found more often in high-achievers than in the general population.
While the Impostor Syndrome was thought to be more prevalent in women than men, research proves otherwise. In her 2013 book The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane reports that two-thirds of several recent incoming student populations at Stanford Business School feel their admission was a mistake.
Since personal beliefs manifest themselves in the workplace, it is important to know who experiences the Impostor Syndrome, why capable people suffer from it and what we can do to change it.
Some very accomplished people think they’re incompetent and that they have no right to be where they are. Doctors, CEOs, Hollywood stars, and sports legends with objective evidence to the contrary may still feel like they are fakes. For some, the Syndrome raises such huge doubts that people stay in the “safe zone.” As a result, society loses. Similarly, companies suffer if fearful people avoid trying new tactics that can result in business growth.
On the other hand, there are some positive outcomes from this Syndrome. Society benefits from innovation and growth as people who are recognized for their successes strive to prove their “worthiness” — saving more lives, increasing profits, or pushing their abilities.
To address the consequences of the Imposter Syndrome, we need to recognize it in others and in ourselves. Famous actors and actresses such as Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, and Michelle Pfeiffer have admitted experiences with it. Dr. Margaret Chen, Chief of the World Health Organization, attributes her achievements to luck. The Huffington Post cites Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg, US Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor and even Albert Einstein as suffering from the Syndrome.
Why capable people suffer from the Impostor Syndrome
The speed of technological change is one factor in the Imposter Syndrome. Suddenly what you thought you knew has changed, and it seems that everyone else knows it before you do. Dr. Denise Cummins, author of Good Thinking: Seven Powerful Ideas That Influence the Way We Live, states that the syndrome can stem from several sources. One study cites overprotection from parents; another says that having non-supportive friends can reduce confidence.
Cummins notes in contrast to logic, the higher people are in the hierarchy of business or medicine and the more people that report to them, the greater their self-doubts. One reason is because any failures they experience may affect more people than ever before.
Overcoming the Impostor Syndrome
Cummins advise people to brainstorm a list of their accomplishments and refer to them often.
Joyce Roche, author of the 2013 book The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success, suggests 7 steps to overcome the syndrome:
- Don’t suffer in silence.
- Do a reality check.
- Learn to see and accept others as they are.
- Learn to accept external validation.
- Build alliances with like-minded people.
- Develop a sense of humor.
- Live the life you want.
If you have the Impostor Syndrome, you are most probably a high achiever, which is good. On the other hand, it’s stressful. Learn how to lighten-up, and you’ll likely live longer.