As you wade through the feelings that imposter syndrome surfaces – feeling like a fraud, wondering when people are going to find you out, and disbelieving even your own evidence for success – you might have a moment of pause.
What if those signals are actually hints that we’re just not very good at what we do?
No one is good at everything, of course, so it stands to reason that we have some things that we can work on and improve. How are we supposed to know the difference between feeling like a fake and the very necessary self-check we need to identify where we can improve?
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Healthy Self Awareness Requires Balance
Self awareness is a good thing. And we can all probably scare up a few examples in our head of people around us who lack that (Dunning-Kruger Effect, anyone?)
But healthy self-awareness is not just a punishing inventory of all the ways we fall short of our own expectations.
If your personal reflection doesn’t have a balance of both your opportunities to improve and your strengths, it’s not self-awareness, it’s self-flagellation (ask me how I know the difference).
Sometimes we need help to gain that balance, which is where having a committee of champions can come in handy if you find it hard to do on your own. Think of it like training wheels for your ability to self-assess in a healthy way.
But if you listen to that voice in your head and it’s only spewing critique, criticism and condemnation of your skills and abilities, it’s likely the IS monster coming to play.
Imposter Syndrome Rides Alongside Growth
Imposter syndrome doesn’t tend to show up when we’re sitting comfortably with where we are right now.
If you’re settled neatly in a groove, a place where you’re squarely in your wheelhouse, imposter syndrome doesn’t have a job to do. So it slips away quietly for a while.
But high achievers rarely stay comfortable for long, so they’re always pushing to do more, to do better, to improve and excel…and imposter syndrome can’t resist that combination of things. So in some ways, it can really help to recognize that those fraud feelings often show up when we’re in the growth zone, embarking on new things or new feelings and in a spot where we aren’t sure whether or not we’ll succeed.
Imposter syndrome loves to exploit you when you’re at your most unsure, so if you can reframe its voice as a signal of growth, courage and bravery in the face of uncertainty, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Take an Inventory of the Facts
Imposter syndrome is about feelings, not facts.
You feel like a fraud, but that doesn’t mean you are. You feel like you’re about to get called out, whether or not anyone is endeavoring to do so. But it’s not based in evidence. In fact, that’s exactly what you need to refute it.
Let’s say you have a job that comes with regular opportunities for feedback; is there any consistent thread about things you need to improve on, from multiple sources? Are those sources people who are actually close enough to your work to know what you do well and where you might have opportunities to grow? We all have things we can stand to work on, so it’s totally okay if those things are there. But you’re looking for consistent feedback that’s based on evidence and examples, not general hand-waving.
I know when I have something to work on because I hear it from more than one source I trust, the feedback is generally given by someone who wants to see me improve, and it’s delivered with compassion and with concrete recommendations and examples.
But the IS junk is just a droning, monotonous and generic “you’re not good enough and everyone can see right through you”. And the “evidence” it seems to proffer is often in direct contradiction to facts. Take the time to go through your inventory of truths, and have facts on hand. If you can refute the tapes in your head with evidence to the contrary, that’s likely just IS trying to wear you down.
Facts, with evidence, not feelings.
You Don’t Have To Do It Alone.
Imposter syndrome isolates us, because it’s loaded with shame and fear. That’s it’s MO.
But one of the greatest weapons you can wield is belonging. Whether it’s a colleague, friend, therapist, or an army of all of the above, allow yourself to find support, validation, and encouragement outside your own head. Most people have these sorts of feelings occasionally, and talking about them can diminish their impact almost immediately.
Yep, there are moments when we’ve hit the limit of our abilities or stepped outside our skill set. But remember, skills are fluid; they can grow, we can learn, and even failure is not permanent. Imposter syndrome wants us to think in absolutes, but when you remember that you have the power to change and evolve, the idea of “incompetence” looks a lot less threatening.
What have you learned about discerning the difference between incompetence and imposter feelings? Have anything to add? I’d love to learn from your experience, too.