A lot of us have probably had thoughts like these sometime or other in our career. We may have just started at a new company, been promoted or perhaps even won an award, and during the first few weeks at the new job or when going up on stage to receive the award, think to ourself: “I don’t deserve this. I’m a fraud. They’re all going to catch on soon and then I’ll be found out.”
This is the famous Imposter Syndrome talking. It tends to affect people on the upper end of the intelligence bell curve (at least that’s something to be grateful for!) because intelligent people are more likely to understand that they don’t know everything and be critical of themselves. This is in contrast to people on the lower end of the intelligence curve, who suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect and tend to believe they’re invincible (or invisible, like McArthur Wheeler) by the sheer force of their confidence, even though they don’t have a clue what they’re doing.
Imposter Syndrome is a self-talk problem. It’s a voice (or one of many) in our heads that tries to get us to doubt ourselves. When it’s successful, we sabotage ourselves by walking away from a situation because we don’t believe we can handle it or will be able to see it through, or simply aren’t capable.
We become good at something through practice and after a while it becomes easy for us. But this then leads us to discount the value of what we’ve learned -“if it’s easy for me, it can’t really be worth that much.”
The voices won’t go away, but you can learn to recognise them for what they are – irrational and useless thoughts that won’t help you in any way. There are a number of steps you can take to help you overcome imposter syndrome, but I find the 2 that always work well are 1) simply recognising it and calling it out for what it is, and 2) stop comparing yourself to others. After a while, the voices will become like old annoying friends – you can’t get rid of them, but you learn the best strategies to deal with them.
There is a great story told by Tara Brach in Tim Ferriss’s podcast, that captures the essence of how to deal with imposter syndrome:
One day, Buddha was teaching a large group, and Mara was moving around the edges, looking for a way into the group. I envision Mara rushing frantically back and forth in the bushes and trees, making plans to wreak havoc. One of Buddha’s attendants saw Mara, ran to Buddha and warned him of Mara’s presence. Hearing his attendant’s frantic warning, the Buddha simply replied, “Oh good, invite her in for tea.”