Imposter Syndrome

One of my juniors decided to take up a job with a top-tier firm. 

She decided to do this instead of starting up which she wanted to do. When I dug deeper, the reason she did so was that she didn’t believe she was as good as others thought she was.

Ironically, the ones who suffer from it are some of the best minds that I have met. I couldn’t help but wonder what makes the current workplace scenario a barren field of confidence. 

Do we all really just suck at our jobs? Or are the expectations so high that no matter what we do, we can never really attain them?

Psychologically speaking, Imposter syndrome is when you doubt your achievements, ability, and fear that people may think (or find out) that you are a fraud. 

Here’s an anecdote from one of my favourite authors – Neil Gaiman. 

“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things.  And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name*. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”

Whether you are a startup founder or a VC, imposter syndrome haunts one and all. 

However, there isn’t much solace in that fact.

Imposter syndrome is paradoxically high in individuals who are capable, and highly talented, and not with individuals who really are imposters. 

This sense of doubt merged with perfectionism pushes these individuals to work even harder to compensate for the lack of confidence in themselves. The more they achieve, the more they feel just lucky. 

The evidence of this is even alarming in the case of women. From feeling underqualified to feeling that they have been hired and appraised for all wrong reasons, imposter syndrome is rampant.

People suffering from imposter syndrome are likely to give themselves poorer reviews, undersell themselves. They can even suffer from other mental health issues like anxiety and depression. 

It’s a pattern of anxiety that arises with any new task where they are convinced that they are not going to be able to make it this time around but actually do an amazing job. 

So we’ve established what it is. And how crippling it can be.

But what is it that you can do? 

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear-cut answer. But here are some things you can keep in mind. 

The first and foremost step in dealing with it is to realise that you have these feelings and to acknowledge it. Understand that these feelings are quite natural when you are growing so embrace it but do not let it affect your ability to perform. 

The next step is to let go of perfectionism. Acknowledging your weaknesses, letting go of the ‘ideal’ image is crucial to deal with imposter syndrome. 

Perfectionism is a brutal state of being in a highly imperfect world. 

Challenge yourself by taking on responsibilities that demonstrate your strengths and assert your expertise and confidence. Try to internalise your achievements by thoroughly analysing the situation and taking stock of what you did well. 

Try to have realistic expectations and realistic role models to emulate. It’s no wonder that entrepreneurs and founders feel like a hack when they compare themselves to some of the big names. Keep in mind that everyone is at a different stage in their journey. 

Comparing your 10th step to someone’s 100th step will always result in you feeling short. 

Lastly, analyse your feelings. Do you really feel you aren’t capable or is it your way of lowering expectations that you and others have from you? It may sound a bit brash but the mind works in funny ways sometimes. 

It’s easy to feel discouraged and to feel like a hack in this journey to success. No matter your qualifications, aptitude, and even experience, feeling like an imposter is probably inevitable for many. 

“You don’t have to attain perfection or mastery to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved.” – Margie Warrell