Is Imposter Syndrome Real? Here’s a Different Take on the Topic

If you’re feeling like a fraud, it’s probably *not* all in your head.

Much has been said about how imposter syndrome is a personal issue. Some believe it’s a lack of self-esteem and confidence, while others attribute it to unrelenting perfectionism.

But consider for a moment that imposter syndrome may not be the psychological shortcoming many experts believe it to be, but rather a natural reaction to a hyper-competitive patriarchal culture that treats people from less advantaged backgrounds unequally.

The modern workplace sets up its employees to work harder to achieve the same success that comes easily to those from more advantaged backgrounds. But let’s be honest: working-class and marginalized people have enough to deal with in their daily lives, and imposter syndrome only creates another burden.

And according to society, the only way to free yourself requires working on yourself in order to have the “right” amount of confidence that others perceive as valuable and a hallmark of success.

It’s unfair, to say the least. But it’s even more important to identify imposter syndrome for what it really is and decide not to let it impact how you view your success.

How Imposter Syndrome Can Sabotage Your Livelihood

woman hiding imposter syndromeBy definition, imposter syndrome is the sinking feeling that your successes and triumphs are the product of mere luck or dishonest efforts. Perhaps it’s feeling like a fraud or not fully believing you’ve earned certain achievements. Whatever your experience, the result is a lack of confidence and unceasingly asking yourself whether you’re truly good enough.

Imposter syndrome tends to impact women more than men (typically minority women), but no one group is immune to its effects. Even senior men at billion-dollar corporations may find themselves struggling with the feeling that they might one day be exposed as a fraud.

Impostor syndrome is real. It sucks and it can hold people back. Even so, not everyone experiences it, and it’s certainly not always the explanation when someone is struggling in their personal or professional lives. For some people, no amount of “bucking up” or believing in oneself is going to change anything. Other people’s biases color their perceptions, and if they view one’s identity less than favorably, all the self-confidence in the world will not fix that. If we’re on the receiving end of this, we might think it’s our fault somehow and we have to try harder.

This belief is reinforced by dismissive responses to ideas, stress from microaggressions, and the paternalistic attitudes that are so rampant in organizations. We think that we need to toughen up, be more likeable, or put in more work hours to prove ourselves.

Being constantly dismissed can take a toll on our self-confidence. The stress adds up. Eventually we realize that it never translates to a raise or a promotion. This can impact our sense of livelihood outside of the workplace. When we start thinking we aren’t good enough, it can suddenly cause us to second guess everything we say, do, and think. And when this happens, we’re already well into a downward spiral of imposter syndrome and, also, burnout.

The Solution: Redefine Your Own Confidence

If this is your experience, it helps to recognize that the need to fix yourself is triggered by the environment in which you work and live. Recognize that it’s actually the environment that needs to be fixed. It’s broken. Not you.

Instead of fixing yourself, focus on other areas of your life where you are successful. Too often we put our emphasis on work success, and even though work provides us with things like money and benefits (if we’re lucky), it doesn’t have to define us. Work can be a means to an end.

But if work means more than that to you, remember that you are worthy and any organization is lucky to have you.

You can also tune into your inner voice that’s trying to guide you in a different direction. Perhaps it’s time to shift from trying to be likeable and focusing on what you like. Or instead of taking on more work, use that time and energy on something that nourishes you or actually makes a difference.

Though it can be difficult to restore lost confidence, it’s not completely out of reach. Confidence can look and function differently for each person, and it’s not always as visible as most people make it out to be.

Quiet confidence can be just as valuable as outward confidence. Instead of trying to adapt to “normal” displays of confidence, start building yours from within. Accept that valuing privacy and self-containment versus round the clock visibility is a sign of self-knowledge and self-control.

While we’ve come a long way with seeking equal rights for women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, we still face a deeply biased and classist system.

It’s this same system that benefits from individuals believing issues like imposter syndrome are solely in their minds. Instead, put the issue where it belongs. Use some of the energy you could have used working on yourself to restore or maintain your confidence and achieve solidarity with others, which could, over time, create more of the change society needs.

Resources:
‘Impostor syndrome’ is a pseudo-medical name for a class problem

How The Rhetoric of Imposter Syndrome Is Used to Gaslight Women in Tech
The Trouble with Imposters
Am I an Imposter, or Am I Oppressed?
You don’t have Impostor Syndrome
“Lean the f*** away from me”: Jessica Williams, “impostor syndrome” and the many ways we serially doubt women

Felicia Baucom
felicia.conway@gmail.com
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