“What’s talent but the ability to get away with something?”
― Tennessee Williams
Most advice about imposter syndrome goes a little something like this: When you feel like you’re an imposter, remind yourself that you’re not! List all your achievements in your head, remember all the hard work you’ve done, and tell yourself you deserve to be where you are.
And, as anyone who struggles with imposter syndrome knows, that advice does not usually banish that sneaking suspicion that you are really just a fraud.
This advice doesn’t work because it doesn’t treat the cause of imposter syndrome—just the symptoms.
Imposter syndrome is the colloquial name for fears about our own competency, but experiencing imposter syndrome actually has nothing to do with our own competency.
As one study showed, people feeling imposter syndrome experience a combination of social anxiety, self-criticism, depressive tendencies, and achievement pressure. Notably, the study found no indication that people feeling imposter syndrome were incompetent. The authors concluded imposter syndrome is an anxiety issue, not a competency issue.
Beat imposter syndrome by embracing your fear
Most advice about imposter syndrome recommends what psychologists call improving your self-talk. Telling yourself you deserve the success you have and that you really are competent is one example of improving your self-talk.
Improving your self-talk is a great life skill, but it’s only one way you canovercome anxiety. And in my experience, it’s not a great way for imposter syndrome. Our fears just come back bigger and more powerful than ever.
Imposter syndrome is so difficult to beat with positive self-talk because we all inherently recognize we’re not perfect. We all know there are ways we could improve. When we try to beat imposter syndrome by pretending we are the greatest thing since sliced bread, our imposter syndrome immediately senses the lie.
The best way to beat imposter syndrome anxiety is to embrace your imperfection.
An example: I’ve recently started a coaching practice. It took only two Zoom calls with new clients to realize I’m feeling a huge amount of imposter syndrome. Thoughts of inadequacy are running through my head all day.I’ve never coached anyone before. I’m not a therapist. I don’t even have a coaching certification.
If I try to beat back these thoughts by reaffirming my years of entrepreneurship and writing experience, they just come back an hour later. They do this because they’re true. I don’t have a coaching certification. I have never coached before.
Instead, I’m embracing my imperfection. My clients don’t care. They didn’tchoose me because of pedigree. They chose me because they think I can help them. And I’m going to do my damn best to do so, degree or no degree — and that’s what they care about. These thoughts chase away my imposter syndrome for good because they are true, too.
“Imperfections are not inadequacies. They are reminders that we’re all in this together.”
— Brené Brown
Stop trying to prove your imposter syndrome wrong. Instead, reply, “that may be true, but it doesn’t matter.” Because other people will always have more skill sets, more years of experience, and more professional certifications, but they will never have your heart, mind, or determination.They will never be you. Imposter syndrome can never touch that.