Impostor syndrome, also known as perceived fraudulence, is rooted in one’s perceived notion of personal incompetence and self-doubt; which can linger despite your academic achievements, professional experience, and accomplishments and it can create a gripping, paralyzing fear.
In the words of Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin, “impostor syndrome is a phenomenon in which people find it difficult to internalize their accomplishments, skills and experience and are constantly in fear of being exposed as a fraud, attribute their successes to luck or key relationships and overwork to compensate for their perceived lack of ability. The paradox is that people with impostor syndrome are not frauds, they’re actually high achievers who are extremely competent and are able to really excel”
To paint a clear picture of how it works, the impostor cycle consists of feeling anxiety over an important project or presentation, then overworking to overcompensate creating anxiety and burnout, then succeeding and receiving positive feedback afterwards, then due to lack of internalization and self assurance, the results are attributed to luck and not skills, triggering doubt and anxiety. Unfortunately for the hundreds of millions of professionals that suffer from this syndrome, the cycle is as ongoing as it is toxic and it promotes a sense of hopelessness and insecurity that continues to serve as fuel for this vicious cycle, paralyzing professionals and leaving them feeling stuck and frustrated, while robbing them of reaching their true greatness.
Some of the most common triggers for impostor syndrome can be found in the form of new tasks such as projects and presentations.
- A new project, for which we may feel that we are not fully equipped to tackle, we doubt in our ability to handle it and anxiety and self-doubt start to creep in.
- An existing project in which we have reached a complex stage, and our response can be negative self-talk, which will lead to self sabotage and procrastination.
- A complex project or important presentation with high visibility. The thought of being evaluated by senior management can tamper with our ability to perform, as we start connecting the outcome of the project or presentation with our future opportunities for growth and advancement within the organization.
- Also a public event can trigger self doubt. The visibility of a public engagement or speech can make us feel like we are incompetent and are sooner or later going to be put into evidence in front of a large audience. Yet these feelings can be driven by normal anxiety; which almost everyone that participates in public speaking to large audiences can experience.
This is not only mentally and emotionally draining but it can have physical repercussions as well. Enhanced stress pushes the body levels of cortisol hormone into overdrive creating all sorts of imbalances that impact weight gain, insomnia, hair loss, increase tendency to develop cancer and heart disease.
To counter the notion of inadequacy and/or ineptitude, you might end up working harder, putting in longer hours and holding yourself to even higher standards. Healthy boundaries tend to get blurry and you may allow your career to become the central focus of your entire life, yet left feeling like no matter what you do, you are still not enough.
Thanks for reading and God bless,