Keeping it real does not always feel great. We may not be fully satisfied with our own personality, expertise, and work ethic. These doubts can overshadow our accomplishments. Our successes can feel hollow and fraudulent.
If you have ever felt this way, you may be dealing with a psychological effect known as Imposter Syndrome.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome occurs when creators and professionals feel they are not good enough for their successes. They feel as though they are fooling everyone into believing they are experts in the craft. There is also a fear of being found out and having their shortcomings exposed.
The phrase was coined in Clance and Imes’ 1978 research titled ‘The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention’. This study found that many successful women felt as though their achievements were done through trickery and not expertise. After this study, and many others, Imposter Syndrome was born!
What Does Imposter Syndrome Look Like?
Imposter Syndrome symptoms look very different depending on your perspective. From the outside, we may see someone who is endlessly hard working with a keen eye for detail. While these are admirable qualities, they are not the effect of a positive work ethic.
The person suffering from Imposter Syndrome can be filled with self-doubt. They are constantly scrapping their projects and starting over. It will be difficult to be vulnerable with others about their creative endeavors.
It doesn’t feel great to feel like a fraud. It feels like we are being dishonest with the people who trust and depend on us. However, in the case of Imposter Syndrome, our peers are getting value out of our creative and productive ventures. It just feels like we are tricking them.
Self Esteem Plays an Important Role
Imposter Syndrome plays on our feelings of self-worth. Self-esteem affects the way we view our accomplishments. A positive self-image gives us comfort in our abilities. Our decisions feel more certain. The unknowns in our life are not as scary.
Low self-esteem can have us feeling like our equation for success is a bit off. There is no way our hard work, determination, and skills can add up to great things. We are merely taking credit for an achievement we faked our way through. The only positive aspect was the luck that was on our side.
This is obviously not true, but it sure can feel this way. It is impossible to believe in our work if we do not believe in ourselves. We can lose sight of the fact that our creations are more than the sum of the parts. Paint is just colored paste until you arrange it on the canvas.
Progress Might Feel Like Imposter Syndrome
Finishing a project is, more often than not, a nerve-wracking experience. You are trying to do your best work by pushing your skills to the next level. This project should be better than the last, and you are giving your all to make that happen.
While it is healthy to feel this way, it may also manifest negative feelings. Your upcoming release to the world may feel like a sham. The project is not represented of your current skill level. You were just lucky that a little extra work turned into something better than expected.
I feel that this is a natural part of learning and progression. It is hard to know your current skill level without testing yourself. It might be hard to admit that you have increased expertise in your skills.
Imposter Syndrome and Our Societal Obsessions
Society rewards success with fame, adoration, and resources. Those that accomplish great things are revered and given the best perks that society has to offer. Only those with incredible skills are worthy of such benefits.
Though this concept is true, we tend to take it a bit too far. We see famous people as larger than life. They possess a certain amount of perfection that the average person lacks. Celebrities tend to take on symbolic and mythological qualities.
With our standards set so high, there is no way that any normal person can compete. This is where Imposter Syndrome rears its ugly head. Our successes make us feel guilty. We are just your average Joe. There is no way we are capable of achievements.
What Kind of Imposter Are You?
Imposter Syndrome can take many forms. Valerie Young, the author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Woman, has theorized a few different types of Imposter Syndrome. The human personality is vast. It is easy to see that humans have a variety of motivations, thought processes, and effects.
The Perfectionist attempts to live up to an unobtainable goal. No one is perfect, and those expecting perfection will never be fully satisfied with their work.
The Superman/Superwoman needs to always be the best. Their feelings of inadequacy make them push themselves too hard. Mistakes and mishaps have negative effects on the Superman/Superwoman.
The Expert is not comfortable putting in the work until they are certain that they have learned enough. Since every topic can be infinitely researched, Experts will never feel adequate to get started.
The Natural Genius is accustomed to making accomplishments look effortless. However, this only goes so far. The Natural Genius will eventually set a difficult goal, and this will throw them off of their game.
The Soloist does not like asking for help. They feel that their accomplishments need to happen without the aid of others. However, most large projects require involvement with others. Collaboration helps bring in a diversity of opinion. The Soloist misses out on these benefits.
Abigail Abrams wrote an excellent article for Time that further discusses these types of Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome and Art
No one is safe from the negative effects of Imposter Syndrome. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. Your skill proficiency doesn’t matter. This is an ailment that manifests from how we feel about ourselves.
Everyone has their own perspective on what defines an artist. Some feel that true art is deep and emotional. Others take pride in technical prowess. There are so many aesthetic mediums and techniques that the number of possible flavors seems endless.
Regardless of the parameters, many creators do not include themselves in their definition of an artist. The title and status of being a true artist is something that is obtained after years of experience. There comes a point where we hit that supreme level of prowess and can join the ranks of the creative.
There are two big problems with this way of thinking. First, does being an artist truly require such a masterful level of talent? Art is very subjective. Everyone has their own line for what they consider to be an artistic skill.
Second, the learning process never stops. We continue to grow and develop throughout the entirety of our creative careers. If we view art as something that is always above us, we will never reach our goal of feeling like an artist.
It is difficult to constantly feel a lack of this internal validation. Holding negative feelings about our success is not conducive to a productive creative journey. Achievements are supposed to make us feel good.
How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome
- Remind yourself of why you love to create. Who needs to be an expert when you have passion? The skills will come on your own time. Try to have some fun and enjoy the journey. Creation is a fulfilling and emotional process that adds a lot of value to our lives.
- Remember that it is okay to feel good about your work. Your time and energy are your two most important resources. Be proud of how you spend them. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. You took the time and energy to build these skills. There is nothing phony about that.
- Surround yourself with honest and supportive people. A little encouragement can go a long way. Friendly constructive criticism will help you find areas to improve. People who care about you want to see you be successful.
- Continue your pursuit of knowledge. The adventure into our intellect never ends. There is no better way to feel like an expert than to actually become one. Keeping building those skills!
- Manage your expectations. Success doesn’t come over night. Take comfort in progressing one step at a time. All you have to do is your best. Aim to get a little bit better every day.
- Become more comfortable with pushing yourself. Stepping outside of the comfort zone may feel uncomfortable, but it can help build confidence against the unknown and uncertain. Failure and setbacks are a natural part of progression, especially when it comes to building skills.
SciShow Psych on Dealing With Imposter Syndrome
5 Inspiring Quotes Related To Imposter Syndrome
“The fundamental thing about my personality is that I think I’m an imposter.” – Sally Mann
“I’ve always felt like an imposter, in the whole, as a musician.” – Nick Cave
“Imposter Syndrome is the feeling of wearing a mask and playing a role that one does not feel at home in. It is when you like you or your work is a fluke and that you’re a dwarf amongst giants. Many of us have this, especially when we’re in some sort of creative industry.” – Luvvie Ajayi
“If you always feel like an imposter, you work harder, and that makes you better at your job.” – Edie Campbell
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’” – Maya Angelou
A TED Video About Dealing With Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome TED Talk
What Do You Think?
I have felt Imposter Syndrome many times in my life. No matter what I do, there will always be someone better than me. I can never know every piece of information on a given topic. Keeping this in mind, how do I know when I am proficient at a certain skill?
This line of thought is what keeps me from becoming overconfident. However, it can also keep me from being productive and successful. I try not to let Imposter Syndrome get the best of me.
Have you ever felt like you were suffering from Imposter Syndrome? What did you do to deal with Imposter Syndrome?
Did you enjoy the Imposter Syndrome TED Talk? What was your main takeaway? I thought that Lou Solomon did an excellent job with this presentation.