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  • Amanda Mefferd

What the hell is imposter syndrome and should I really care?

New job? New relationship? New situation? Or none of these, but just curious? Here’s a taste of imposter syndrome:

Damnit! Why do I have to do everything myself?! Internally screaming as you look at the dishes that were “done” earlier. I actually asked for help.

I have to look like I know what I am doing. It has to be good. It’s not enough to be early and stay late. I have to earn my chair at this table. As you sit up straight at the boardroom table, looking every co-worker in the eye between taking notes on the presentation. What’s after this? The rest of the day has to be successful.

I can figure this out. It won’t take long. I’ve got this. In. Every. Situation. Except there are some situations, like that software that NO ONE understands, and you fail. You fail to get it right on the first try. I can’t do anything right. I’m never doing [insert anything challenging].

What do I need to get this done? I’ll do it myself. Asking [anyone] for help will make me look like I don’t know what I’m doing. And then you start outlining the project - whatever it is. If you can’t get it done on your own, your thoughts stray into They’re going to know. They’re going to see it. They’re going to find out. I can’t do anything.

I can’t do that. I’m not qualified. So you don’t apply. So you don’t start that personal project. So you don’t try. I just don’t know enough yet. I just need to learn, research, study more before I try.

With all the discussion surrounding mental health, mental illness, depression, anxiety, social anxiety…the list seems endless and confusing. But, hang on, don’t you need to have a name for whatever you have before you can combat it? Can imposter syndrome be self-diagnosed?

Yup, been there. If that’s imposter syndrome, am I alone?

Ok, so imposter syndrome is seriously common. WebMD, yeah I know - it’s WebMD, but still, also yeah - referenced and reviewed), 70% of us have thought of ourselves as imposters in one situation or another. Also, according to the same article, imposter syndrome is not [technically] a mental illness. It’s not even recognized in the DSM V.*

Other studies have a variation from 9-82% of people have felt like imposters. Ok, to let that sink in - somewhere between roughly 1 in 10 and 8 in 10. Yeah - that’s pretty common. You’re not alone in your self-doubt, not by a long shot.

I need more details - a name for my imposter

The term “imposter syndrome” seems like it’s everywhere. Really. EVERYWHERE. Every person who has switched jobs, or gotten a divorce and started dating, or has been in any new situation ever has symptoms of imposter syndrome. That could be because the term has been around since 1978. Two PhDs, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzann Imes were the two that came up with it. Just over thirty years later, Valerie Young EdD classified and reorganized the concept into the five categories that are commonly accepted today. And you’ve already seen them - at the top of the page.

The Perfectionist

Oh, the age-old problem of asking for help and no one’s help meets your standards, and at the same time in another situation, you know your best won’t be good enough for someone else’s standards. That obviously means that your work must be 100% perfect or you’re not cut out for that work, right? Hello, Perfectionist Imposter.

Meet your new mantra: Done is better than perfect.

The Superhuman

The boardroom scenario, or really any scenario where your “performance” could be judged by others - this is where all your insecurities are put on display, or so you think. Workaholics who feel the need to constantly “earn their place” and see any time not working as a waste… Hello Super Imposter.

Meet your mantra: Your opinion = not my problem.

The Natural Genius

So you didn’t get it right the first time? No big deal, right? Wrong. Wrong to you. And that’s okay. It really is. It’s the Natural Genius Imposter. This is often with people who got straight As or were always told they were the “smart one.” But this imposter won’t let you feel okay with your “failure.”

Meet your mantra: It’s okay, really, you don’t have to know everything immediately.

The Soloist

Every project has steps - yes - but you also have needs. There’s nothing wrong with breaking down a task, but when it comes at the cost of your feelings of worth, that’s the Soloist Imposter. You can ask for help without appearing weak or incompetent, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel that way.

Meet your mantra: I am worth more than my productivity.

The Expert

The truth is, you’ll never know “enough” for this imposter thinking to allow you to try something new, no matter how much you’d love it. The Expert Imposter sets such a high standard for what you’ll need to know first, and you’ll spend the rest of your life feeling not good enough to try. So - a happy cliche for you: if you jump, the net will appear, or you will grow wings. Give whatever it is a damn shot.

Meet your mantra: Done is better than perfect.

Yeah, pretty sure I have more than one type of imposter…Should I care what category my imposter is?

But really, does it even matter which one (or more than one) imposter you deal with? Kind of…?

The only reason that it matters at all is that you have to recognize when that imposter pops up. The type of imposter doesn’t matter, but the recognition does. You have to be able to call any imposter what it is - a lie.

Back up for a second. Since this isn’t [technically] a mental illness, can it be self-diagnosed? It is common enough to make you feel not so alone - either 1 in 10 or 8 in 10 is a lot. Self-diagnosis or not, taking some healthy action isn’t going to do any harm.

Imposter syndrome all comes down to self-doubt. And the question is no longer “Do I have imposter syndrome?” or “Am I the only one who feels like an imposter?” It’s common. It’s not considered a mental illness. The question is really, “What do I do?”

Honestly, you have to believe that you can do something about it. Or at least be willing to try, find suggestions, or listen to an expert, or even seek out ideas.

If that’s you, read on HERE.*

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