Thoughts on the Imposter Syndrome
Ever feel like you didn’t deserve the achievements you have?
Join the club.
I think that’s more so prevalent for those of us whose cultural upbringing emphasized qualities like modesty, humbleness, and putting others first before yourself like my Japanese-ness or Asian-ness did.
It’s in our blood to deflect the “good jobs” and “congratulations” with phrases like, “oh I got lucky” or お陰様で “thanks to you” all while feeling like you didn’t really deserve what you achieved. Or, that someone made a mistake and it’s only a matter of time before they find out that you don’t really belong.
What Is the Imposter Syndrome?
This is called the imposter syndrome, a phenomena that reflects a belief that you’re incompetent and a failure despite external proof of successes that you are skilled. The original study of imposter syndrome was published in 1978 and only surveyed women. Since then, more recent research shows that men and women experience this phenomena. Some even argue that men have a harder time grappling with this than women do.
Expert Dr. Valerie Young talks extensively about this in her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women and outlines five different types of subcategories: the Soloist, the Perfectionist, the Superwoman/man, the Natural Genius, and the Expert. There are many thoughts that are related to the imposter syndrome, here are some:
If I were really smart, capable, and talented…
I should know everything already
I shouldn’t need help
I’d never make a mistake
I’d always feel confident
I’d never need help
Perhaps reading the above, logically, we think that’s ridiculous as we’re social creatures and need one another to survive and thrive. But think about it, have you ever thought or felt something similar?
I know I’ve struggled with this myself. When I was at Oxford, I just felt like everyone else was so much smarter than me. Granted, they probably were! (See, there it is again — self-deprecation is on autopilot within me).
One thing that helped me process this was a friend suggesting I think about my belonging-ness in this way, “If you don’t think that you belong here, then have confidence in the people who do think you belong. They’ve made a career doing exactly that.”
Hm, my friend had a point.
I do believe in modesty and humbleness. Being bicultural, I’m often fluidly culture switching depending on context leading to different reactions and forms of expression. For example, I’d most likely be 10x more self-deprecating amongst Japanese peers than I would, say, amongst my male Caucasian colleagues.
But what if too much self-deprecation and humbleness stemming from the imposter syndrome leads to impacting our actual self-esteem and confidence? Our thoughts and words influence a lot. I logically understand this yet am as guilty as the next person who has experienced imposter syndrome.
You’re not alone in this.
I’m not alone.
Yet oftentimes, we feel like we are.
Maybe that’s the issue. The word ‘syndrome’ itself has such a heavy connotation and puts the onus on us. I have imposter syndrome. You have imposter syndrome. But I think the real diagnosis is questioning the kind of society we have created where 70 percent of Americans feel like an imposter. According to that statistic, isn’t it an oxymoron that the majority of Americans feel like they’re an imposter?
Perhaps a greater antidote is to create a society where open communication is the norm. What if more people voiced their individual experiences so we can all realize that everyone feels like they don’t belong at times and if everyone feels like they don’t belong, don’t we all [belong]?
Maybe the first step is to share.
To speak up.
So, tell us your imposter syndrome story?