How many podcasts, books and articles have you seen that address imposter syndrome?
How many have convinced you that you have it and need to push past it??
Imposter syndrome (IS) is a behavioral health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals.
It’s disturbing to me that this definition excludes average achieving folks. I disagree with that. I guess people think that if you really aren’t just delusional about your outrageous success you must be ok with how you feel. I’ll be emailing Wikipedia today.
Symptoms of imposter syndrome include:
· Extreme lack of self-confidence
· Feelings of inadequacy
· Constant comparison to other people
· Distrust in one's own intuition and capabilities
· Negative self-talk
· Dwelling on the past
It’s so prevalent we even have types of imposters. Expert on the subject, Dr. Valerie Young, has categorized it into subgroups: the Perfectionist, the Superwoman/man, the Natural Genius, the Soloist, and the Expert.
When I googled imposter syndrome, this is the rabbit hole that appeared:
· Does impostor syndrome go away?
· How can you tell if someone has imposter syndrome?
· How bad can imposter syndrome get?
· Is imposter syndrome more common in females?
· Is imposter syndrome the same as self-doubt?
· What is the opposite of imposter syndrome?
· What do people with imposter syndrome say?
· What do people with imposter syndrome think of?
· Can childhood trauma cause imposter syndrome?
There is currently no specific treatment for impostor syndrome. Or is there?
Here’s my very critical hypothesis. Some degree of imposter syndrome is normal and valuable. In fact, it may be telling us something is wrong.
We are all out here trying to diagnose, treat and cure imposter syndrome. But it is not a medical diagnosis.
I think we’ve just gotten grossly out of touch with ourselves and we don’t recognize when we are just in the wrong f**ng room.
What do I mean???
I mean that our suffering is less about not feeling good enough and more about not being selective enough and perhaps brave enough to be ourselves. Brave enough to define what happiness and success looks like for us. Brave enough to walk out of rooms that are not serving us.
When I went to college I was miserable. I grew up with very humble beginnings. And then one day I found myself on a private campus filled with prep schooled BMW driving sorority girls who just returned from a sailing trip with their independently wealthy parents.
I was proud to have landed this opportunity. But I spent the next 4 years feeling terrible about myself and painstakingly trying to perfect a mask of belonging.
Our culture would tell me that this was where I would climb out of generational poverty and become the brief case toting feminist I was meant to be. My counselor said that I should take this opportunity by the horns and see that nobody has it all figured out. We are all imposters and also not imposters at the same time. Thanks Richard.
That did not work for me. I don’t think that school was where I needed to be. The pain of trying to fit left a permanent mark. I lost 4 years of what could have been fun and joyous.
I now believe that I could have shifted to a school where I could focus on relationships and belonging. There I would have found my career path just well while feeling nurtured and accepted. For me, that would be a win in the race against generational poverty.
I could have exited the social escalator with dignity.
The need for acceptance is real. It isn’t weakness. Mavericks don’t have it all figured out.
There’s a social success narrative that I fully embraced to my detriment. The narrative is that we must be uncomfortable to grow. Sometimes yes. But we need to define discomfort. Discomfort does not mean forcing oneself into a world that we do not enjoy and cannot be ourselves. Discomfort is not long term emotional pain.
This social narrative repeated again at a large international consultancy. It hit me hard while entering the 14 foot glass doors of a country club on my way to join my team for golf. I had never golfed. I did not know what to wear. I did not own clubs. I panicked. I left. I still don’t golf.
When I took control of my story, I landed at an incredible family owned business that breathed life into my spirit and career. Over the next 15 years I evolved and did amazing things. I walked out of some rooms and stayed in the ones that felt right.
Along the way, I realized that I didn’t have imposter syndrome. I was just in the wrong room sometimes.
I was as smart and capable and worthy as any of the people I worked and studied with. But that culture wasn’t what I wanted. It didn’t align with my values. We can escape generational poverty and trauma and still form an identity that holds onto what we love about ourselves.
We can organically grow into roles and opportunities when we choose to make leaps. We can make money outside of an office.
So if your imposter syndrome is more than nerves before a proposal and more like daily anxiety and emotional pain, I’d offer you this:
It’s not a syndrome to be coached, buffered or medicated away. You may just be in the wrong room. Exit when you are ready.