It’s that niggling doubt that lingers throughout the day, nudging you in the ribs, suggesting you’re out of your depth.
It’s that wave of overwhelming uncertainty that swallows you whole and spits out what’s left of your shredded self-belief.
And it’s that cloud of negativity that fogs your memories, suggesting you were never good enough in the first place.
It’s imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is a term coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes to describe a psychological pattern in which someone doubts their skills or accomplishments and has persistent, internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.
This can affect both women and men, but throw this into the mix with an already misogynistic society and imagine the mental storm brewing for one-half of the population.
Women have fought, and continue to fight, so hard for equal rights. I don’t think we work as hard as men; I think we work harder. Because not only do we need to compete regarding experience and qualifications, we also have to shatter the glass ceiling that is everyday sexism.
An assertive man is confident and outgoing. An assertive woman is overbearing and rude.
A family man must be compassionate and kind. A family woman means she’ll spend too much time thinking about her children and not enough time on the job.
It shouldn’t be this hard.
You have achieved your goals, overcome the barriers to success, battling the constant gender stereotypes, and now, look where you are. You deserve to be there, and nobody can ever take that away from you.
Women can be mothers and entrepreneurs, and scientists, and whatever the hell they want to be. These titles don’t cancel each other out. A woman can be her own boss. Not a girl boss, just a boss. Women can overcome the internalized fear of not being good enough and overcome imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome doesn’t discriminate, and so it doesn’t stop at hindering career progression. It can become all-consuming. The debilitating force that pushes us back down when we take steps toward our final destination: self-confidence. We are encouraged to step out of our comfort zone, but when we do, we freeze. Surely by showing our weaknesses, we are outing ourselves as the frauds we are?
You’re a failure.
You don’t know what you’re doing.
Any moment now, someone will find out.
The crazy thing is, imposter syndrome in and of itself is a taboo subject, with even the most highly qualified people refusing to acknowledge its existence in their lives. So, we don’t talk about it. It becomes another guilty little secret to feel ashamed of.
When I was younger, my friends’ Mum was a nurse, and I was amazed by her. Seeing her in her uniform, I was in awe—she must know everything! Then, I qualified as a registered nurse. Immediately, I hoped nobody would ask me a question about their health, just in case I didn’t know the answer. Terrified that not knowing every single thing about the human body would out me as an imposter.
Even now, raising awareness of imposter syndrome as though I have my inner critic in check. Let me clarify, my own imposter syndrome continues to rear its ugly head more often than I’d like.
What I’ve learned is that these psychological concepts only have as much power as we give them.
Since I’ve started talking about it, I’ve realized that most people have felt the same; but that doesn’t reduce the level of respect I have for them. They’re successful, and they deserve it. I’m successful, and I deserve it. You’re successful, and you deserve it too.
You are where you are today because it was meant to be. You were exactly the right person at exactly the right time.
Next time someone gives you a compliment, avoid dismissing it and simply say “thank you.” Because it’s true.
Imposter syndrome isn’t going anywhere, but the control it has over you will.
You are powerful. You make the rules.