The term ‘imposter syndrome’ for many may be a new label but several of you may be thinking: ‘Oh no, I’ve just been caught’.

This term comes from a study in 1978 – The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention, by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes of Georgia State University. Briefly, this looked at women who were unable to accept that they were successful and had deep-rooted self-doubt. These women were found to dismiss their educational and professional accomplishments and instead put their success down to sheer luck and the ability to deceive others into thinking they were worthy.

Since this study and even to this day more and more people (still, interestingly, mainly woman) have shared their experiences about having imposter syndrome. Having a name for these feelings surely makes it more acceptable to feel self-doubt, unworthiness, and fraudulent in your career. So is it a negative trait?

Some imposters feel plagued and downtrodden by these feelings, even those with the highest of titles; scared to take certain steps in case they are challenged on their intelligence or success. However, some feel empowered and are willing to continue as an imposter, using it to cope with their workload and to accept that they don’t know everything – well, how could they; they aren’t qualified for this role anyway!

Deep down, the majority of imposters know they are clever enough. If they weren’t, their luck, acting skills and cultural advantages would have been wasted on them. In order to become an imposter you surely know that you are good enough to fake it; you now have to learn to use it to your benefit.

Embracing the imposter syndrome and allowing the emotions and difficulties it can bring to overhaul you could be dangerous and unhealthy for your mental health. However, using it to your advantage and allowing yourself to take that extra step is definitely positive, for example going for an extensive promotion, feeling confident in an interview, speaking out in a meeting full of other professionals.

Being an imposter links closely with being a perfectionist. Perfectionists often believe they could have done better and push themselves again and again. Although both these traits show you are hard-working skills and an ideal employee, they have implications for your sleep, sanity and social life. If you expect perfection you are undeniably going to let yourself down at some point in your life.

How to cope with these feelings:

  • Recognise when it is OK or normal to feel like an imposter, for example, a new job where you cannot, of course, be the expert yet.
  • Talk about your feelings – more celebrities are bringing the imposter syndrome into the news once again; to name a few: Zoella (YouTube star), Michelle Obama, Emma Watson, Cara Delevingne, Sheryl Sandberg, Serena Williams, Howard Schultz and Tom Hanks.
  • Allow being a perfectionist to give you the drive to do well but allow yourself the space to make mistakes and live your life how you wish without the pressure of ‘perfect’ overruling it.
  • If you don’t feel intelligent enough to be in that place, learn more – use your researching skills and talk to others.
  • Be confident – if you have been ‘winging it’ there is a reason you’re able to do that and that, in itself, is a skill.

For more ideas and information, see Dr Valerie Young speaking at https://impostorsyndrome.com/

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Glykeria Karanika is a Regulatory Programme Manager at Roche. Read her story here.

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