Why Do I Feel Like An Intellectual Fake? (Imposter Syndrome Series 1/3)

You have just been told the fantastic news that you have been promoted to lead a team for the first time and while you thought you would have an immediate rush of euphoria, you pause to pay attention to your actual feeling, and notice that you have an overflow of doubt and negativity. Your mind spins a series of aggressive questions — what if I cannot do this? What if they find out that I am not that talented? What if I mess up so badly that I become the first person in company history to get fired on the first day, perhaps even before lunchtime?

Do these worries torment you? If you are like 70% of the population, you are not alone in this particular type of feeling known as imposter syndrome. In their study, researchers James Alexander and Jaruwan Sakulku described it as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” We have this sense that other people think that we are more skilled and competent than we are, and at any moment, we are going to be exposed as intellectual frauds.

How does Imposter Syndrome differ from good old fashion performance anxiety?

Sure, we all may experience moments of stage freight — right before stepping into the spotlight to deliver an important speech or conducting a high-stakes meeting, we deal with performance interference thoughts that can push us off our game. And then there is imposter syndrome, which is self-doubt on steroids. According to Researchers Joan Harvey and Cynthia Katz, there are three core characteristics of imposter syndrome: 1. The belief that you have fooled other people 2. Fear of being exposed 3. The inability to attribute your achievement to internal qualities such as ability, intelligence, or skill. Instead, you think you got to your position through luck and do not deserve any of your previous accomplishments, you are just living this big fat lie. Nervousness and some stage fright before big events are different than the perennial feeling of not earning any of your successes.

When we explore the negative impacts of imposter syndrome, we can work towards managing this feeling more effectively. Here are some of the most detrimental effects:

1. Decreased satisfaction with work. While some self-doubt can keep us on our toes, push us to take chances, and check our egos as we are reminded of our fallibility, too much of it can diminish our ability to find satisfaction at work. If we are always feeling an excess of anxiety with every task we do, it will be hard to derive joy. Even when we have an accomplishment, new situations arise and continue to be proving grounds. It can also lead to increased workaholism. If we are driven by this fear of failure and feelings of not possessing the capabilities, we will work harder, overdo things, and burnout.

2. Diminished happiness. Imposter syndrome does not only hurt our career, but also our health, well-being, and personal relationships. When work dominates, we neglect our self-care and our connections with others. Resentment grows and dissatisfaction becomes the pervasive norm.

3. Prevents presence. If achieving presence requires us to be in tune with our truest feelings, beliefs, abilities, values, then how can we be ourselves in the moment, if we feel like a fraud? Imposter syndrome causes us to overthink and second-guess, and it makes us over-fixate on how others are judging us. Our thoughts are scattered and we find ourselves mentally reviewing our previous few steps and what our rewrite would look like. This self-monitoring can prevent us from listening to others because we are distracted by our inner monologue, which makes it more challenging to build trust and connections for the highest quality relationships.

While imposter syndrome is a normal feeling, there are things we can do so it does not unleash a torrent of adverse effects on us and get in the way of our goals and dreams. The next blogs will jump into how imposter syndrome shows up and ways we can fight against it.

Quote of the day: “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” -Cary Grant

Q: In what areas of your life do you experience imposter syndrome? Comment and share below, we would love to hear from you!

[The next blog in this series 2/3 will focus on the origins and manifestations of imposture syndrome]

As a Leadership Coach, I partner with others to shatter their limiting beliefs and build confidence, contact me to learn more.

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The untold damage of Imposter Syndrome

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