"It must have been a fluke."
"It was nothing."
"I just got lucky."
"It could've been anybody."
These are the things I have found myself saying; the things I can't prevent from spilling out of my mouth in response to any acknowledgment of the achievements or successes I have earned by way of my own intelligence, diligence, and perseverance.
And if I am not actually vocalizing these "aw shucks" sentiments, I am certainly feeling them.
I am most assuredly telling them to myself and setting it the refrain on 'repeat' in my mind.
It's a simple knee-jerk reaction:
"You're not good enough. You never were, and you never will be. Anything good that happens is purely by coincidence or having been being privileged in some way."
Moreover, at any given moment, people will find out what I actually am--an impostor, a fraud--someone who just got lucky.
Perhaps you feel a similar anxiety to my own. Maybe, you worry, any day now, your supervisor at work is going to call you out on your incompetence and let the department, the company, hell, the whole world know that you're a complete and utter fraud. Maybe, you worry, your school advisor is going to call you in and say that there has been a mistake on your standardized testing scores, that you aren’t fit to be at school at all.
You could be very likely grappling with a case of Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome was initially identified by Dr. Pauline Clance in the 1970's as she made observations during the therapy sessions she conducted for a predominantly high-achieving, female clientele.
"Despite objective evidence of success, these women had a pervasive psychological experience believing that they were intellectual frauds and feared being recognized as impostors. They suffered from anxiety, fear of failure and dissatisfaction with life." -International Journal of Behavioral Science
Moreover, the proof of success is shrugged off as good timing, luck, or as a result of manipulating others into believing they'd been more competent than they believe in themselves to be. Impostor Syndrome is not a display of humility, but an actual inability to internalize accomplishments and abilities.
I've no idea why it took me this long to consider how this is all applicable to me. Truly, when I consider my historical achievements or successes, without fail, I've always immediately and systematically played down my role in having made them happen.
I feel I've no right to take credit for actually doing the work or possessing a particular aptitude or skill. Likewise, at any given moment, people will find out what I actually am--an impostor, a fraud--someone who just got lucky.
And apparently, I'm in good company with this persistent anxiety, because about 70% percent of millennials are dealing with Impostor syndrome as they enter a rapidly changing workforce environment.
What's even more interesting is the fact that it's quickly becoming a chronic condition for millennials of all genders as modern job culture and technology create a high-pressure, competitive environment for establishing a professional identity.
Defining, and then securing, a professional niche in today's market can be overwhelming and intimidating, triggering Impostor symptoms. And those symptoms are teetering towards epidemic proportions. This can be partly attributed to the unpredictable career outlook: the jobs that millennials prepared for and planned on aren't as widely available as expected.
Positions are vanishing, being made redundant in the face of ever-expanding technology. The other thing to consider is that, according to the American Psychological Association, Impostor Syndrome occurs more often among people embarking on new endeavors, like entering the workforce, beginning graduate school, starting a tenure-track or other obligatory adulting.
"Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can't do this. I'm a fraud." – Kate Winslett
I've done this all my life. Anytime I've had any sort of accomplishment or achievement, I've subconsciously knocked myself down a peg or two. I don't feel like I deserve to take the credit for my accomplishments.
Throughout my own seven-year stint of professional work in the banking industry, I was a top performer in my market. Looking back, this truly amazes me, that, despite my abysmal attendance record--a byproduct of wildly unmanaged moods as I'd not yet been diagnosed Bipolar -- I was really quite good at what I did. Like, a baller, even. Don't ask me how; I really couldn't tell you.
"The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: 'I'm a fraud! Oh God, they're on to me! I'm a fraud!' So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud." – Tina Fey
Who knows? Perhaps it was because of the phony and scripted nature of my work environment--don't let the Big Banks fool you, it's SALES not Service--or maybe it was the highly competitive and cutthroat culture, but, despite my relative success, I was convinced I'd no idea what I was doing.
I felt I had no business whatsoever reaping accolades from my supervisors, peers or customers under any circumstance and when they were foisted upon me, I felt like I'd be found out for the fraud that I was.
Run a Marathon and qualify for Boston? Psshh. Everybody's running those now, aren't they? Earn an M.B.A.? I mean, people can buy those online now, can't they?
**I don't even know where my undergraduate or graduate diplomas are let alone have them framed up nicely somewhere, that's how unworthy I feel--the extent of this insanity!**
And because the Impostor Syndrome Monkey likes to hang out at the workplace, this anxiety has, quite naturally poisoned my fledgling writer's confidence.
The seeds of doubt began regarding successful blog posts. I'd convinced myself that anyone with an internet connection and a penchant for voyeurism can eek out a personal website. And as far as the small readership I'd acquired, I thought that, aside from those who were bound by blood, those who were accessing the site were reading simply reading because I was a looney toon and their loyalty either stemmed from sympathy or perverse curiosity. The only explanation was that I was the daily car crash for the RSS feed.
When I started getting professionally published, I’d still find reasons for WHY. I began manufacturing highly specific rationalizations for why any given publication would agree to publish my work.
But none of the reasons are that I am any good.
Another article about my Anorexia and Bulimia went live recently, and I knew I needed to promote it on social media because that is what editors like for writers to do, but I felt like a fraud in more ways than one.
I felt like a fraud as a writer (Because. Always.) and I also felt like a fraud as someone who supposedly has an eating disorder. The former goes with the territory of typical imposter syndrome implications. The latter, however, is difficult to explain unless you have or have had an eating disorder.
The reasoning behind it is embarrassing and complicated. And weird. Really. I'm humiliated and ashamed to even write this, but I sometimes feel as though I lack credibility to be someone who is now of "normal weight" to be speaking as an authority about Anorexia and Bulimia.
There's a part of me that knows it's nonsense, and most readers will know that it's nonsense too, but I am fearful of misrepresenting myself or the disease in some way. And I understand logically, that this fear and anxiety is another lie that's an extension of my illness because I am still, in fact, eating disordered, despite my now healthy looking body...but it's still very challenging to combat these thoughts.
Even worse than the Impostor Syndrome Monkey, Anorexia and Bulimia are both tricky and methodical in their underhanded nature. They want to keep their targets weakened and sick. Yesterday, they almost convinced me that I had something to prove.
They suggested to me that people would read my article, view the emaciated pictures at the time of a relapse, see my current, weight-restored figure in real life, cluck their tongues and murmur "wow, she's gained a lot of weight."
Yep, that's the mind-torture of an eating disorder.
And since the article went up, however, I received some amazing support from fellow eating disorder warriors holding me up in recovery: people whom I hold in very high esteem, in fact, and admire both in their own recovery and their professional and personal success.
So I thought if I could acknowledge and respect myself as an authority on eating disorders, and be comfortable with my ability to competently write about them to the extent that editors would, indeed, want to publish my work, I thought I could begin work on the other aspects of my Impostor Syndrome.
Here's a summary of a few ideas to start with How To Deal With Impostor Syndrome As A Millennial:
1.) Get Some Perspective:
Your audience--be it readers, customers or clients--have options. They chose YOU. It's a waste of time comparing yourself to all the other people who might be more qualified than you. Not only are you forgetting that you're bringing your own unique perspective, but it's very likely that, if you are invested enough to have developed this phenomenon, you're always looking to be better.
I often find myself falling into this trap when I blog about a particular organic gardening topic in which I'm not yet well-versed. I'm now in my third year of growing fig trees, but as I was learning, and blogging, I felt silly and foolish detailing instructions on how to successfully raise fig trees (even though I was successful!). I worried that readers would recognize that I was a new blogger and gardener and spot my greenness right away (sorry for the pun).
To overcome this anxiety, when I blog about a specific topic, I am hyper vigilant not to provide erroneous or incomplete information to my readers. I do this because I know there are other sources out there and I want to be continually improving to provide the best information that I can.
2.) Admit when you don't know something:
I think this one is probably the most important to keep you out of hot water; especially when you are in a position to provide authoritative information. In my personal experience, I'm realizing that it's okay to be in the constant state of improvement and learning referenced previously. As a matter of fact, researching for and writing about the concept of Impostor Phenomenon brought forth the following concept to bear in mind:
from an instructional or authoritative standpoint, we're only at risk for being exposed as a "fraud" if we half-ass it on information which we are not clear about.
So no B.S.-ing, basically.
If you aren't a level-one expert on a particular subject, it's okay to admit it! Let your audience know you'll find the answer, and get back to them once you do have it.
3.) Self-Awareness Assessment:
How realistic is your way of seeing yourself, your abilities and accomplishments? Examine the list of said accomplishments and acknowledge them. What skills have you developed? What are the qualities you have that attract people to you and have gotten you this far, already? Celebrate that!
4.) Do a reality check on your inner strength:
Take an inventory of any hardships you've overcome by making a list of some personal setbacks on a whiteboard which challenged you, but by overcoming them, wound up making you stronger and more resourceful.
Don't forget to count those learning experiences in your skill-set list in #3.
Keeping track of your accomplishments with a planner or journal. Engage in positive self-talk through stream of-consciousness writing. Don't worry about spelling or grammar in this exercise. Just let the pen flow; you will be surprised at how healing and restorative this practice can be.
Remind yourself how capable you are. That power is within you. Honest.
6.) Hang out with your Warriors:
Surround yourself with positive people who reinforce you and your strengths. For example, my fellow eating disorder recovery warriors validate me in regard to my competency and authority on speaking up about the realities of eating disorders to educate and inform the public. They hold me up in a positive and supportive way so that I feel empowered to advocate for this cause.
Also important: Keep your distance from those who make you feel inadequate. Although it may not be intentional, some people tend to bring out the comparison monster in us, trigger negative thinking, and ultimately contribute to our lack of confidence.
7.) Keep the Positive stuff around:
Even though it's been awhile since I've competed, I still keep my road race medals from half marathons and marathons displayed prominently near my workspace. They are a visual and tangible reminder of goals fought for and accomplished. I should probably do that with my diplomas. Ah, baby steps.
Using sticky notes with positive quotes is a tactic that works for some people. Others are motivated by keeping a "Feel Good File" full of client raves, recommendations, praise and thank you's. This file can be digital or physical.
Better yet, do both.
What suggestions do you have to add?
What methods do you rely on to keep from negating yourself?