The Truth Behind Imposter Syndrome

With Halloween behind us we take off our costumes – if you want a shocker, try Tobias Fünke with hair-plugs and cutoff jean shorts – and return to normal life. Unlike a costume so casually shed, some people feel like an imposter day-in and day-out.

Usually primed by significant life changes, imposter syndrome is a rarely studied but often quoted plight for those that feel like they receive undeserved praise and success. We should all be so lucky, right?

In this respect, there are two schools of thought: one views imposter syndrome as a self-deprecation mechanism to disarm outsiders and create lower expectations, while the other view holds that it’s a result of whatever shift we are experiencing – landing a great job, a promotion, graduate school placement, or any previously unheard recognition such as in classes or sports – causing us to place unrealistic expectations on ourselves.

Given the former, an air of inadequacy may not be emotionally harmful, but it acts to undermine trust and confidence from those who don’t know the game. The latter can be much more destructive, resulting in increased levels of stress and reduced self-esteem. Though typically a temporary state, it can be hard to remove the veil of self-doubt since it’s development is in large part a result of lack of trust in others to appropriately gauge the ‘imposter’s’ value; in essence, they are waiting to get caught, and no words of praise can help.

Success is relative, and feelings of being an imposter – waiting to be exposed for what you really are – can befall any of us.  It’s important to keep in this in mind as you move forward in life: onto the first big job or graduate school. If you do find yourself suffering self-doubt, seek out guidance from others in your position. Chances are you’re not the only ‘imposter’ around.

By Chris Iversen