What if someone discovers I am a fake?

There’s a pretty good chance you’ll recognize some of yourself in this blogpost but you might have never heard of the term imposter phenomenon (also known as imposter syndrome). In The Netherlands this term is fairly unknown still. It’s about a fear of getting caught as a fraud: you are smart and capable and yet you keep doubting yourself and are slimming your chances of a succesfull career without realising this. You think someone will soon find out you are not actually as good as you (or they) said you are and that you are fooling everyone around you. The term was first secured by American psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. Clance also suffers from this psychological phenomenon.

There has not really been any solid research on this subject and it is not really clear who suffers from this phenomenon (Clance and Imes thought it was mostly intelligent career women between 20 and 50 years old, but as it turns out a lot of men said they have these feelings as well) and what the origin is. Still you might not really recognize yourself in “feeling like a fraude” but do recognize a lot of the feelings that come with this: thinking you are not experienced enough for a job or a project,  because you lack experience, the right diplomas or the perfect qualities for the job.

When I was on an afternoon tea date with a couple of girl friends, I heard them say things that fit right in with this phenomenon and I recognize them in myself as well, any time I read about this. I think it’s very interesting that almost all women in my circle have or recognize these feelings. On her website Clance has published a questionaire with 20 questions that give you an idea of which feelings fit the bill. Think of thoughts like: ‘I often compare my skills to those around me and I often think they are smarter than me’, ‘When I get a lot of recognition or appreciation for a task I finished, I tend to say it was not that big of a deal’ and ‘I am never as satisfied with a finished task as I wanted be’. You often doubt your own skills and qualities. But a succes is not always just a coincidence or luck; you’re very smart and have lots of skills. It’s not necessary to compare them to anyone, as you are just you and you contribute in your own unique way. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different.

If you think about it, it’s all so easy. I see what is going wrong in my mind when I think about it, but when I am in the middle of a situation I don’t have that distance and I respond on auto pilot. I can’t seem to change my thoughts in that exact moment. That’s why it was useful to search for some tips to deal with these negative thoughts and feelings and the 5 below are pretty good to start with.

  1. Realise no one on earth really knows what he is doing. If someone says he can do anything, knows everything or does something right all the time, you know he’s lying. People make mistakes, we learn and we are brave enough to do what we are scared of and what we want to learn. Maybe we won’t succeed . And maybe we will. If we do not try, we will never know. Nobody has a guarantee for success.
  2. In every success you have, it was definately for a big part your knowledge and your strengths helping you succeed. Getting that job was not just luck or coincidence. Getting your diploma was not just luck or coincidence. Completing the project succesfully was not just luck or coincidence … Realise your successes have a good deal to do with your inner strenghts and smarts. Remember that and be proud of it.
  3. Stop comparing yourself to those around you.
  4. Even though you think you’re not good enough, still take action.  If you just do it, there might be a chance you’ll discover that you are actually capable of doing a good job on this. And if it doesn’t work, ask someone for help. It’s always okay to ask for help and it’s what the smart people do if they can’t work it out by themselves.
  5. Let go of your perfectionism. Set normal requirements instead of sky high requirements nobody can possibly reach. And again: it’s not the end of the world to make mistakes. You can learn from them and it’s pretty humane to make a mistake here and there. You are human right?

Want to read more about this subject? A number of books have been written about it and if you google the name you’ll find countless interesting articles from the Harvard Business Review to Forbes and Huffinton Post. I can also recommend Amy Cuddy’s book Presence, which is not specifically about this phenomenon but does mention it.

Do you recognize yourself in this post? We love to know your thoughts on this subject. Please post them in the comments below.

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