Impostor Syndrome: Self Doubt and You

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Most people at some point in their lives experience Impostor Syndrome. What is this you ask?

Impostor syndrome is described as the belief that you are not responsible for your achievements, that they are somehow a result of luck or an accident. That you somehow don’t deserve praise for your accomplishments and don’t believe you are capable of achieving what you want in life.

You think the people you admire have it all worked out.

The truth is – nobody does. In order to over come feeling like an impostor, you need to understand this. When we compare ourselves to others on our path (colleagues, other students etc.) we forget that what we see in other people is their best selves. The Instagram breakfasts they spent 20 minutes re-positioning and has now gone soggy. The class presentation that they were up to 3am crying over. When we compare ourselves to everybody else’s finished product, we fail to see the background of what they’ve produced.

When we produce something ourselves, we are well aware of the pain and self doubt that went into the finished product. We know we changed that paragraph wording 10 times before settling. We know we’ve tried to lose weight for years and never quite stuck to it.

We don’t see them doing the same things we do. Just like when we were children and we thought our parents had it all worked out. Now we’re adults and we realise nobody is as perfect as we thought. We’re all just bumbling along wondering what to do next or if we’re really good enough.

I experienced Impostor syndrome recently when I began to apply to do my Masters at University. After a difficult time in my life and taking a year after graduating to work and think about what I would like to do next (no pressure), I realised I wasn’t done with education quite yet. In fact, I’d quite like to be a lecturer and teach others myself.

My former adviser was incredibly helpful through this process. She went above and beyond to help me with my application, even reformatting my research proposal and providing suggestions to improve it.

I began to research lecturers at the University I was applying for to get an idea of what I was getting myself into. Their achievements were astounding. They had published so much, spoken at so many conferences, received so many awards for their work…surely I could never do those things?

Self doubt was creeping in. In a minute I had forgotten all I had achieved so far. Anxiety had me procrastinating and everything I typed seemed wrong. When I explained how I was feeling to my adviser she gave me a knowing look.

“We all experience this,” She explained. “I have. It’s called Impostor Syndrome. It’s part of being a high achiever.”

Having a name for what I felt put it all into perspective. I came up with an action plan to kick these feelings in the face.

Tackling Impostor Syndrome

  • Remember we all start somewhere. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.
  • It’s important to remember we’re all human. Everyone goes through self doubt and all those ugly emotions. To quote famous philosopher Michel de Montaigne “Kings and philosophers shit – and so do ladies.” 
  • Make a list of all that you’ve achieved so far. Take pride in your accomplishments. Own them. Know that you worked hard to achieve them and that you will achieve more in the future.
  • Accept praise. Resist the temptation to dismiss compliments offhand. Say thank you and know your hard work has paid off.
  • If you have a goal that seems overwhelming, break it down into baby steps. It will make it seem more manageable. For example – if your goal is to make your own clothes, first learn how to do a simple stitch. Learn how to sew. Make small things. If you keep up these baby steps you’ll become closer to your goal.
  • Humanise those you admire. If you’re intimidated by a particular person in your field, read about them. Find out their struggles. You’ll soon realise that they’ve gone through a lot to be where they are now.

Self doubt can be useful, but when it gets to the level where you feel like an impostor it can prevent you from even trying. Hopefully some of you can now recognise these feelings for what they are – lies.

Look after yourself,

Nikki

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