I have written about the imposter syndrome in previous articles in an effort to breakdown what the syndrome is and how it affects day to day people. I felt it needed an oxford dictionary definition and a lived experience by internet strangers to solidify its truth. In truth, it really just required research to solidify my thoughts and put them into perspective. Imposter syndrome does not have one definite definition as it will look different for each person experiencing it based on their internal insecurities and the occasional commentary from external forces. It however comes with two common denominators, pretense and inadequacy. What has been interesting to note is that many people experience the syndrome, regardless of race, social status, demographic location, family background or even career path.
An article by Gill Corkindale in the Havard Business Review, Corkindale defines imposter syndrome as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
My obsession with understanding imposter syndrome stems from my own personal experiences of feeling like an imposter. It helps little, that I live a very public life which more often than not invites scrutiny and opinions from total strangers. I find that that is the lived experience of a variety of public figures and the good new is; many have shared their lived experiences and the internet is overflowing with solutions and combatting strategies to overcome imposter syndrome.
Julia Ma, a contributor of The Cut wrote a piece which highlighted the story of 25 famous women who faced imposter syndrome in their career. I will share two of the stories Ma shared of women who I look up to and felt a real connection to. In essence, the connection stems from having believed prior to reading their stories that they simply are too good at what they do to suffer from imposter syndrome.
“What’s it called when you have a disease and it keeps recurring? I go through [acute impostor syndrome] with every role. I think winning an Oscar may in fact have made it worse. Now I’ve achieved this, what am I going to do next? What do I strive for? Then I remember that I didn’t get into acting for the accolades, I got into it for the joy of telling stories.” —Time Out, September 2016
“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are. It’s weird — sometimes [success] can be incredibly validating, but sometimes it can be incredibly unnerving and throw your balance off a bit, because you’re trying to reconcile how you feel about yourself with how the rest of the world perceives you.” —Rookie, May 2013
Here are two women, brilliant at their craft, decorated with accolades that highlight their brilliance, yet they themselves suffer from a syndrome one would deem only for the ordinary folk. Which simply shows that the syndrome plays no favorites and crosses gender, net pay, ethnic and status lines.
Even as I write this, I cringe, because my imposter syndrome is rooted in my writing abilities. The irony is that in order to overcome it, I need to do the very thing that sparks it. I started writing in the year 2012 officially for public consumption and had been writing 6 years long before which privately and for self. No matter how much time passes, how many articles put out it persist. My remedy, is understanding that it is felt by many and still has not stopped them from being great.
According to Chris Christoff, co-founder of MonsterInsights, who contributed to an article on Inc, remembering that no one is 100 percent sure of themselves all the time is the first step toward dealing with your own self-doubt: "We're human and it's OK to admit that we don't always reach our goals on time or remember to complete a task. It happens. That doesn't mean we aren't good at what we do."
The idea is not to shrug off the feeling of being an ‘imposter’, it is in acknowledging the feeling, understanding that it happens to the best of us and pushing beyond the self-doubt.
By Mavis Braga Elias
Civil Engineer, speaker, philanthropist