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Impostor Syndrome – What is it and how to deal with it?

(Photo credit: Anguish by Porshe Brosseau/Flickr)

You are sitting at your office desk, looking at the empty page you have to write on, but suddenly you are invaded with this paralyzing fear of being a failure… Your hands start to sweat and you cannot think of anything else. You are overpowered by fear.

woman with hands in her head
(Woman with hands in her head. Photo credit: Anguish by Porsche Brosseau/Flickr)

This is a weird feeling that most people have at a certain stage in their lives and it actually has a name: Impostor Syndrome. In simple words, this syndrome is the feeling of being a fraud – and even worse: the thought that people will finally find out that you have no idea what you are doing. It does not matter how much you have studied or worked to be in the position that you are now, people living with this syndrome tend to think everything good that has happened to them was only a matter of luck and not even external proofs of validation, like a compliment from a boss or getting accepted in college, could ease this.
The term “Impostor Syndrome” was first used in 1978 by clinical psychologists and it has come a long way since. It is thought that almost 70% of the population has or will have Impostor Syndrome, with famous names like Tina Fey and Neil Gaiman. People suffering from it go through uncountable moments of self-doubt and experience the seem-to-be eternal feeling of not being good enough. All of those fears summarize directly into the person’s self-esteem, which could finally lead to more serious cases such as depression or anxiety.

Did you recognize any of these characteristics in yourself? Fear not! No matter how deeply inserted these feeling are on you, there are coping mechanisms to overcome these self-doubts and start accepting your success.

1. Validate yourself
As much as getting a compliment from someone else is great, learn to validate yourself. The nice things people say about you will be meaningless unless you actually believe in you.

2. Do not think of setbacks as proofs of failure
Mistakes happen all the time and they should not be seen as “see, I was right, I am a failure”. Try to analyze what happens and learn from the things that went wrong, this way you not only gain knowledge but also embrace them as part of growing professionally. Understand it is impossible to be at the top of your game all the time and sometimes things do not go as planned.

3. Breathe
Whenever you start feeling those doubts creeping down your mind, take a moment to breathe and think rationally about things. Think about all the work you have put to be where you are now – the nights you studied hard, the extra hours at work you did to deliver a great assignment. Do not self-sabotage by giving up to these doubts.

4. It is ok to look for help
No one knows everything and there is no shame in that. If you do not feel confident in something, ask for help – a classmate or a coworker might be the easiest way. Sometimes you might even find a friend going through the same feelings as you.
Always look for ways to improve your skills and challenge yourself to get better at the things you already know. Continue learning is the best way of helping yourself.

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