Unscrambling the "Imposter Syndrome" with TBD
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”
– Maya Angelou, prolific American writer, activist & cultural icon.
Ever blown off a legit compliment that came your way for a considerable accomplishment, with something on the lines of “Pssshhh — it’s nothing, I got lucky” or “Oh that? I had loads of help!”? Are you at times riddled with a need for perfection that is also driven by creeping self-doubt? Or do you sometimes feel undeserving, like a bit of a sham, worried about when you are going to trip up & expose yourself for a lack of competence in your chosen field? Well, it is very possible that you are experiencing ‘The Imposter Syndrome’, a proven phenomenon in behavioural psychology that is as pervasive as the common cold.
First identified in 1978 by Dr. Pauline Clance through clinical observations in therapeutic sessions with high functioning female professionals and academics, it is known to affect about 70% of the working population at varying degrees & points in life.
A huge chunk of this statistic is made of ambitious, goal-oriented, success chasing & high-flying career makers for whom the issue very often goes unnoticed & unspoken for — causing anxiety, feelings of isolation, negative self-talk, dissatisfaction with life & heavy mental strain.
We decided to pull out this particular monster from under our beds for closer examination & dissection! Turns out it isn’t a monster at all, but a highly misconstrued issue that can be better understood with self-compassion, awareness and patience!
Let’s take a journey through its known manifestations & tendencies, for some much-needed baby steps towards recognizing the Imposter Syndrome.
(Please note: the people mentioned in the following examples are fictional & their situations are hypothetical — this is for the purpose of easier understanding of each of the complex topics. Any resemblance to IRL persons is purely coincidental but may provide valuable insight- we hope.)
I. THE EXPERT
Prolific writer in a technical field & an accomplished public speaker who is well supported by years of research & published works of acclaim, in spite of not having a formal degree — Tara is an achiever in the truest sense of the word.
Everyone thinks so — except Tara herself.
Often feeling like a fraud despite a flood of testimonials & thanks on how much her work and efforts have bettered people’s lives; she still feels the dread of not belonging and the ‘who am I to talk about it’ heebie-jeebies before every public speaking event due to her insecurities about the lack of formal training.
These issues deepen further, causing her to backtrack on decisions, avoid opportunities that would seriously elevate her career & put off projects that desperately need her experience-based contributions!
Sounds familiar? Well, just like you — Tara is wonderful at what she does!
Instead of being riddled with self-doubt, one of the ways she could lean into a growth mindset is by learning to recognize her unique strengths and practice creative ways to apply & experience them in daily life.
We absolutely love the work done by VIA character website as an expert-reviewed method to understand and appreciate our own significant strengths & their effect on our lives.
Everyone needs a healthy pat on the back from themselves sometimes!
ii. the superwoman
Having worked hard throughout her academic life, Ruhi managed to get a coveted scholarship to the highly esteemed university she currently attends.
Often praised for her intelligence in pursuing her coursework, putting in ten times more effort than her peers & her iron-clad work ethic, Ruhi is seen as one of the most deserving recipients of the scholarship. Ruhi makes all of this look easy and effortless too — on the surface.
Internally, she pushes herself to dangerous limits — mentally & physically, because she feels like she has to validate her scholastic achievements by going above and beyond. Even if it has an unhealthy effect on her life.
Mental comparisons to others, the need to please, and looking for external validations are all drivers of these stressful tendencies.
If you feel this way even a little, just know that like Ruhi, you can care for yourself better and even celebrate your achievements — it doesn’t have to be that way!
Learning to appreciate the quirks and qualities that make oneself unique & understanding that everyone is on their own different path in life is key to avoid negative self-talk through comparisons with others and beginning to find the roots of happiness internally.
To positively shift into the growth mindset, it is very important to find some space, relaxation & downtime for oneself — lest a burnout is just around the corner, waiting to self-sabotage all that hard work.
Taking a moment to pause and reflect ever so often in the day, meditative exercises, plenty of sleep and even pursuing small fun tasks like planning a future vacation once in a while, are all powerful ways to cope!
Music is a wonderful solace in combating this form of “imposter syndrome”. Check out this calming playlist to center yourself & allow the mind to decompress!
iii. the natural genius
Maintaining a high-voltage corporate job at an investment banking firm and a healthy work-life balance, Aisha is often called a wonder-kid in prestigious circles.
A natural at what she does, an ace negotiator with a ground-up understanding of her field, Aisha easily excels at her job and finds her day-to-day tasks to be a comfortable safe space.
Lately, though, that safe space has begun to translate into a dangerous comfort zone that holds her back & keeps her from evolving.
In spite of being a star performer, Aisha has been going through intense anxiety and fear of failing every time a challenge that takes her outside her comfort zone presents itself — such as public speaking on the art of negotiation, for the next work conference at the request of her superiors.
Trying to figure out ways to get out of risky (but golden) opportunities is the kind of stressor that can lock in a stagnant mindset while still being a natural genius & prodigy! Hits close to home?
If you identify with Aisha’s conundrum, you can hone in your excellent instincts and count on your limitless potential by getting friendly with skills & tasks that are new & totally outside of that which comes easily to you.
Small things and consistent efforts breed powerful, long-lasting & positive change — start with this fun list of 100 ideas/things to do outside your comfort zone to not only spice up your daily life but help you get comfortable with being a bit uncomfortable at times — they’re called growing ‘pains’ for a good reason!
iv. The individualist
A customer service executive and front-desk manager in a luxury hotel chain, Sneha is its employee of the year.
A favorite amongst managers & customers alike, Sneha is adored at work for being ultra-efficient, a one-woman army, a morale-booster, and a highly skilled communicator with a bright, charming personality!
However, every time she is congratulated for the honour of being voted employee of the year, she blows it off by saying ‘Everyone is too kind’ and that she had ‘Tons of help’ — all with a cheery smile. Sneha really believes it too.
Being highly individualistic, she also tends to overwhelm herself with tasks that she refuses to ask help for, internally denying herself the elation of her accomplishment, which she feels she only achieved due to the kindness of others. All the while ignoring the fact that her excellent interpersonal skills hold the workplace together like glue.
Sneha could overcome this & appreciate her skills the way everyone else does — and if this resonates, so can you!
A conscious shift to a team-motivated mindset, where vulnerability & asking for assistance is regarded as a strength & sharing credit doesn’t allow for mentally diminishing contributions of the self, are all great places to start!
We love this reading list of 30 beautifully crafted classics that are sure to give a rich perspective to those who go through this & other types of imposter syndrome.
V. THE PERFECTIONIST
A power-house at the helm of an uber-successful and hip clothing label, Ekta has put years of work & love for her craft behind every perfectly concocted collection. A connoisseur & a taste-maker, she is highly regarded in her exciting field — something she seems to remember less & less in her daily life as certain stressors take center-stage.
Setting practically impossible goals for her team, but mainly herself, she tends to become obsessed with perfection with a single-minded & anxious focus.
Caught in the loop of feeling self-doubt and an intense fear of failure as a new fashion season rolls by, while also constantly feeling like every delegated task could have better results if done by herself; Ekta’s perfectionist tendencies cause counter-productive systems & responses.
Do you face this too at some level? Just know that like Ekta, being a perfectionist can be channeled in a more collaborative & wholesome way!
Practicing failure & understanding that there are hidden gems & opportunities inside each mistake are keys to shifting to a more positive & productive way of life. At the end of the day, it can be seen as a blessing in disguise rather than a frightening eventuality. Many of the world’s greatest creative achievements and scientific discoveries have been a direct result of successive failures. Read more on how to treat failure like a scientist and famous success stories that have stemmed from failure as a starting point!
Did you know that J.K. Rowling was rejected by many publishers for her mega-successful series ‘Harry Potter’? Her 2008 Harvard commencement speech is an absolute testament to the power of taking every failure in stride — a reminder that is super important when combating this issue.
Indiscriminately affecting people from all walks of life & manifesting in more ways than one, the Imposter Syndrome is the root cause of many unfinished projects, untouched hobbies, unrealised dreams and incomplete masterpieces.
We, at TBD, hope that this article helps you pursue yours in some way — big or small.
We would also like to mention that we definitely recommend talking about it to trusted loved ones, seeking professional help & therapy as the best approaches for any kind of mental health stress or issue.
Always curating a safe space for our community of kick-ass, ambitious & hard-working women, we would love to hear from you & be inspired by your stories.
Write to us about your experiences with the Imposter Syndrome, if any! How did you identify it? What are your go-to ways to combat this issue?
Until next time — stay safe & stay healthy!