I’m sure we’ve all felt this when we entered our first university class: You’re sitting in a lecture, the prof asks a question and someone in your class starts blabbering on about things you haven’t even heard of and the prof is impressed. Then, thoughts of doubt start flooding in.
“Are we supposed to know that? Why does everyone look like they know what he’s saying? Oh my god, am I the dumbest one here? How did I even get into university?”
The truth is, you’re probably not, since you’ve made it into the programme. Yet, these thoughts still keep invading your mind. What you’ve experienced is known as impostor syndrome.
What exactly is it?
Imposter syndrome is when a person doubts their skills or accomplishments, and are convinced that they are “frauds” undeserving of their achievements.
Imposter syndrome has numerous effects: you downplay your success and chalk it up to luck. You compare yourself against your peers. The comparison is worsened with the rise of Linkedin, where you can easily access the list of accomplishments your batch mates have achieved, alongside your own, making it so easy to compare yourself to others. In the past, the only time you were reminded of your inadequacies were when you had to talk to your peers about grades or achievements. But now, there is a constant flow of notifications of your friends attending a forum, winning a competition, securing a new project… All of a sudden, you getting into a competitive internship programme looks like a fluke rather than a result of your hard work.
Besides that, you also push yourself less for fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Rather than being unmasked as an impostor, isn’t it better to just lay low? This way, no one will know that I’m not as capable as I should be? This exact thought process causes us to stay out of the action, or put off tasks till the last minute so that we can blame our underperformance on starting late (and not actual incompetence). This thought pattern further snowballs: Why should I apply for this position when I’m a fraud? They’ll see right through my application and I probably won’t get it. So why bother? Thus, we limit ourselves to picking low-hanging fruits.
All of these contribute to a cycle of anxiety and guilt, taking a huge emotional toll.
So, how can we deal with imposter syndrome?
Here are some of my personal tips that helped me reframe my thinking, and hopefully it will help you as well!
- Give yourself a reality check
It is easy to believe that you’re a fraud if you keep harping on this false narrative. But you can counter it by giving yourself a reality check. The truth is, you wouldn’t have achieved all that you have without hard work and perseverance. What are some things you’ve done that you’re proud of? Remind yourself of the unique things you can bring to the table.
- Stop comparing yourself to others
Yes, this is definitely easier said than done, but it really helps me to think differently. All feelings of insecurity, self-doubt or envy stem from comparing ourselves to others. So, get off Linkedin once in a while. Let’s be real: most people only put their best achievements on Linkedin. No one is talking about the time they got an ‘F’. So, the next time you start to compare yourself to others, remember that you’re only looking at the highlight reel of people’s careers.
- It is ok to ask for help
Again, this is probably easier said than done, but it is important to recognise that everyone needs help sometimes. Asking for help doesn’t make you a fraud. All it means is that you’re human! It doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or an expert, there will always be areas in life where you need advice and assistance from others.
- Talk to others about it
You’ll be surprised to see that everyone feels the same as you. No one is immune to having insecurities or feeling inadequate. Confiding in a close friend about the fear of being a “fraud” can provide you with some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone in this.
- Be your own hype person
As corny as it sounds, this can help change your perspective about your own skills and talents. If you find yourself paralysed by thoughts of self-doubt and insecurity, remind yourself of the opposite. You can do so with self-affirmations before you start writing that report or place cute little reminders at your work set-up. It might feel awkward at first and you probably won’t immediately see yourself in a positive light, but you’ll eventually start internalising these encouraging messages and changing your self-belief.lau
The key is to look at things from a different perspective. Our brains are wired to harp on the negative rather than the positive. By correcting the way we think, we can help break this cycle of anxiety and guilt, and start “owning” our lives — both the good and the bad.