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Why Imposter Syndrome Is So Common and What We Can Do About It

Have you ever watched a candid interview with an A-list celebrity where they admit to self-doubt? Jodie Foster once said that when she won her first Oscar, she thought they’d given it to her instead of Meryl Streep by mistake. And in her HBO Special, the pop queen of confidence, Lady Gaga confessed, “I still sometimes feel like a loser kid in high school and I just have to pick myself up and tell myself that I’m a superstar every morning.” 

This can be baffling, considering the mass love these talented stars receive. But, it’s also comforting for those of us who suffer from the dreaded imposter syndrome to know we’re in good company. Most of us are familiar with that heavy sense that we’re winging it, and it’s just a matter of time before the bouncer will show us the exit door. No matter how much we accomplish, we still can’t shake that sense that we’ve tricked everyone into thinking we’re the real deal. 

These feelings can hit women hard because, socially, we’ve been taught to be modest and downplay our strengths. But, imposter syndrome affects everyone. In fact, according to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70% of people across the board have experienced it at some point throughout their lives. Hiding in the shadows of perfectionism, it gives everyone that universal feeling that they’re a total phony.

Imposter syndrome usually reveals itself in the form of a critical inner voice. When you’re about to post on Instagram, it warns you nobody will like that photo. When you pass a magazine stand, it chastises you for not looking like the photo shopped image staring back at you. When you score a work promotion, it assures you that clearly, it was just dumb luck. 

A few years ago, I noticed dark imposter fears creeping into my psyche, and I became curious about their origin. Whenever they surfaced, I took a step back and searched for historical connections.

I realized at the root of these thoughts were past negative experiences or off the cuff remarks from others that had stuck with me. Understanding where these thoughts came from was the first step towards freeing myself from their grasp. 

We can’t really get rid of negative thoughts altogether, but we can make them powerless. The next time that dreaded feeling that you’re a fraud looms over you like a dark cloud, here are some simple tips to help take control back.

Name That Voice

You may be well acquainted with that nasty inner voice. It finds a way to downplay your victories, and when you make a mistake, it’ll never let you live it down. Trust with full faith that this voice is not the real you. It has absolutely no say in what you’re capable of.  

“I’ve named mine,” says author and CEO of Interact Studio, Lou Solomon.  “Her name is Miss Vader, after Darth Vader, and she says awful things like ‘you don’t deserve to be here. These people are really smart.’ 

The beauty of naming that voice is once you can hear and understand it, you can do something about it. Thankfully, for every villain, there’s a hero. You also possess that loving, supportive voice. She sees reality, serves as your intuition, but most importantly, she calls out the villain’s lies. 

Don’t Chase the Candy 

At times, I’ve worked as hard as I could to get ahead. I treated life like a video game where each level I encountered gave me extra points. The issue here was each time I achieved that level, it felt great at first, like a sweet burst of candy. But later on, the feeling didn’t last. Somehow, I ended up back at square one, staring into the horizon at the next milestone I hadn’t reached. 

I’d always assumed that a successful career automatically led to a successful life. But I wasn’t looking at the full picture. Nor was I looking deeply at the meaning behind my work. I had to get honest about the type of career that would nourish my soul. When you go deep within, and ask the tough questions, you can transform your career into a calling, and find what you were really meant to do. Suddenly, those negative inner words lose their weight altogether.

Shine Your Light Outwards

Your attention can only work one way. When you’re turning inward and analyzing every failure, you may be missing out on some big opportunities to serve others. Thought leader Marie Forleo uses the concept of comparing your awareness to a flashlight. 

“When your light is focused on helping people, you’ve got zero light shining in on you,” she says. “That means you have zero attention on your fraud feelings, which means they practically disappear.” 

Negative thoughts about your abilities aren’t able to affect you when you’re engaged with others. You’ll be too busy to notice the inner critic, and it will have no choice but to clear out. 

When facing imposter syndrome, one of my biggest mistakes was giving these thoughts credit. I’ve come to realize just because those negative words are there, doesn’t mean they’re true. You don’t actually have to engage or try to ‘figure them out.’ Self-doubt is part of being human, but we don’t have to let it take the wheel. Go deeper, and listen to that heroic voice. She always knows what to do.