So it transpires that I have a condition called imposter syndrome.
No I’m not pretending to be a superhero who wears their underpants on the outside. And I’m definitely not an undercover spy, and I can’t claim to be royalty.
Nope, imposter syndrome, as it turns out, is a condition where the sufferer feels like a fraud and doesn’t believe they deserve their success, and fears they will be “found out” by their peers and bosses.
I came across this quite by accident last week when exploring the internet about self-doubt. Weirdly I hadn’t heard of it before, but by all accounts it’s fairly common and tends to affect high-achieving women (but can also affect men too).
Well I nearly fell off my chair as I continued to read.
The thinking with imposter syndrome goes that sufferers believe any success or achievements are down to luck rather than their hard work, ability and determination.
My God, they were describing me. I had a label.
What’s worse, is that according to the scientists, those who achieve and succeed tend to feel even more like a fake and often sufferers will get trapped in an imposter cycle, whereby they shirk extra responsibilities for fear of being unmasked as a fraud. In other words: death to dreams.
Imposter syndrome is perhaps most prevalent in the work place and seen, unfortunately, with the gender gap between men and women. Where men have the “balls” to ask for a pay rise, women are more meek, and those with imposter syndrome don’t believe they deserve one. Likewise, if there’s a promotion on offer, people with imposter syndrome don’t believe they are good enough to apply.
Imposter syndrome, I believe, has become caught up in my #40by40 volcano attempt – namely that only real mountain-climbing adventurers should climb volcanoes and I am not a real mountain-climbing adventurer and people will find this out. (Writing it out like this does sound ridiculous).
In fact, I’ve been afflicted with imposter syndrome all my life. The reason I got into the top journalism school in New Zealand? Luck. The reason my first job was with one of New Zealand’s largest daily newspapers? Luck. My boss in my former job would tell me I’m amazing and all I would think is ‘you’re crazy, if only you knew’ and then I’d feel completely overwhelmed with the pressure to perform for fear of shattering her belief in me. The irony is, she probably had imposter syndrome too.
If you look at imposter syndrome more broadly, it’s a sad state of affairs and a shocking indictment of how women undervalue themselves. And certainly it’s not helped when celebrities are treated as gods and everyone on social media is seen to have the “perfect” life.
But perception isn’t everything. Indeed, this highlights the importance of being ourselves and not what we think others want us to be or trying to attain ‘perfection’ (whatever that actually is). It also comes back to understanding there is no truth behind the self-doubt voices inside your head.
By all accounts, admitting these fears of being a phoney, and recognising the imposter syndrome affliction, is the first step towards taking back control. The theory is in not giving the fear the power to hinder success. Hence I’m proud to wear the label and even prouder still to attempt to throw it off.
Because – as L’Oréal says – you’re worth it!