It's Not Just You — Here's How Common it is to Have Imposter Syndrome.
Do you think you might have imposter syndrome? How can you tell? What can you do about it? Is it even a bad thing if you do? And how many people have imposter syndrome? That’s what we’re looking at in this article.
First, some definitions.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Clearly, a person with imposter syndrome feels like an imposter. That feeling alone likely proves they are not an imposter.
According to Merriam Webster, an imposter is “one that assumes false identity or title for the purpose of deception.” Synonyms include, charlatan, phony, and fraud. An example of an imposter could be someone who has never even been to medical school putting on scrubs and a fake I.D. and claiming to be a doctor.
However, this definition of imposter syndrome shows that those who have it are generally the opposite of imposters: “a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one's abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one's ongoing success.”
According to Psychology Today, “people who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them.”
While it would be foolish and dangerous to entrust your medical care to an imposter posing as a doctor, you might be very safe in the hands of a doctor with imposter syndrome. Many people with imposter syndrome are not only highly qualified but have achieved acclaim for their work and constantly endeavor to improve their knowledge and skills.
So our hypothetical doctor who feels like an imposter likely had high grades in medical school, is well thought of by colleagues, and continues to complete more than the necessary continuing education. The only problem is, on the inside they don’t feel good enough and have no confidence in their own abilities.
Someone with imposter syndrome may be a perfectionist, they may simply be modest or anxious, or they may have grown up doubting their self-worth. No matter how much success they achieve, they feel that they somehow don’t deserve it or measure up.
How many people have imposter syndrome?
It’s hard to get one clear answer about how many people have imposter syndrome. That depends on the study, the environment, and who you ask. What is clear is that it’s a very common phenomenon.
Some estimates say that 70% of people will experience feelings of imposter syndrome at least once in their lives.
Considering how many people have imposter syndrome at some time in their life or career, you’re not so different after all. In fact, if you suffer symptoms of imposter syndrome, you’re in good company, not only in terms of numbers, but in quality as well.
Many people who have imposter syndrome are actually highly intelligent, talented, and successful in their field.
Even the wonderful Maya Angelou once said in an interview, ‘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!'”
Angelou’s words clearly show that imposter syndrome means viewing ourselves in a way that contrasts with how others see us and with outward evidence of our competence.
Do you have imposter syndrome?
You can also ask yourself these questions:
- Do I think my success was just a fluke, or due only to outside factors?
- Do I obsess over even small mistakes or imperfections?
- Do I undervalue my skills and knowledge?
- Do I feel like I will be ‘found out’ as a fraud?
Answered yes to any of these questions? The shoe seems to fit that you have imposter syndrome. Luckily, there’s hope that you can manage these feelings, and even use them to your advantage in some cases.
It’s not all bad
According to an article by executive coach Sara Sabin, suffering from a little bit of impostor syndrome is really okay. It’s generally a sign that you’re continuing to learn new skills, take on new challenges, and move out of your comfort zone.
As long as you’re not taking on more than is reasonable, or trying to set yourself up to fail, these feelings can be a good thing, because they show that you are continuing to grow and to be the best you reasonably can.
What can you do about it?
Here are some suggestions for how to deal with the symptoms of imposter syndrome:
- Understand what triggers these feelings for you. It may be trying out a new skill, getting a promotion, or speaking about your expertise. If you know to expect the feelings, you can allow them less power over you.
- Look at the evidence. If your results show that you’re doing a great job at work, believe them! Remind yourself that just because you feel like a fraud, doesn’t make it true.
- Boost your confidence by making a list of things you’ve already achieved. Own and celebrate your success.
- Tell that critical voice in your head to shut up by reminding yourself of all the benefits you will experience when you get good at doing the things that scare you. Where possible, do something that scares you regularly, so it becomes a habit. Take baby steps of your comfort zone so the overall impact is great, without the process becoming too overwhelming.
- Fake it ‘til you make it. If all else fails, slap on a smile and imitate confidence and competence. Often, playing the part is enough to help you realize that you are the competent person you are ‘pretending’ to be.
When you remember how many people have imposter syndrome, you’re less likely to feel like it’s just you. And just like you may be thinking others are better than you, they’re also likely thinking that you’re the example they wish to measure up to!
If you challenge imposter syndrome by stepping outside your emotions and looking at the facts; being willing to act despite feelings of discomfort; and remembering that others feel this way too, you can stop imposter syndrome from holding you back or making you miserable. In fact, you can feel good knowing that you’re continuing to stretch yourself, you care about quality, and others will respect your humility and your efforts as well as your achievements.