I was recently selected into a fellowship programme and the first thing that crossed my mind after reading my acceptance email was this: ‘Lola, how did you manage to fool these people into accepting your application?’ Then I tried to proffer answers to my bizarre question:
‘Perhaps not enough people applied so I got lucky and got through the elimination process by the skin of my teeth’.
These were my thoughts until the first day of the immersion programme and I learnt that over 300 people applied. Half way through the opening speech, the Founder of the programme said,
“You are not an Impostor, you are all here because you deserve to be here…”
Gbam! This statement shook me to the core and in that very moment, I realised that the self-limiting thoughts I had been battling with since the day I got my acceptance letter were nothing other than the Impostor Syndrome. Trust me when I say that the Impostor Syndrome is not a First World problem or another plot by the Western world to create a non-existent psychological human condition out of thin air.
A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals that the term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists, Dr Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes who used the term to describe high-achieving individuals (especially women) who often find it difficult to internalise their success and achievement due to their constant fear of being exposed as a fake or a fraudster. So instead of attributing their successes to hard work, competence, and sheer determination on their part, they are more likely to allude their achievement to ‘luck, fluke, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more competent than they believe themselves to be’.
This definition fully captured my state of mind at the time and it is what I would like to refer to as my ‘Saboteur self’ (stolen from Lupita Nyong’o) throwing tantrums. But in case you are trying to figure out if this could be you, I have come up with 10 warning signs you need to watch out for in order to prevent the Impostor Syndrome from stealing your joy as you shatter those glass ceilings.
1. Fear of failing or screwing up
Imagine getting that opportunity of a lifetime but rather than enjoying the moment, you suddenly become engulfed with this idea that you are in over your head. You think you have bitten more than you can chew and therefore believe that you are more likely to fail than succeed. This is a warning sign.
2. An insatiable thirst for qualifications
This is when you always feel under-qualified at your job and have this insatiable desire to keep amassing one qualification after the other in a desperate attempt to win your saboteur self over.
3. Capping your success
The Impostor Syndrome thrives on the notion that you have achieved your success in a short amount of time regardless of how many years, months, days or hours you have put into honing the skill. So you unconsciously put a limit on how soon you can get your next promotion, negotiate for a pay rise, leave a job not paying what your skills are worth or review the amount you charge for the services you provide.
4. Chronic self-doubt
This is when second guessing yourself and your work becomes second nature to you. Even when you are praised for a task, it is never enough to feed your limiting belief and win your saboteur self over.
5. You undervalue yourself
Yes I am a woman. But truth be told, we are the worst when it comes to salary negotiation. We are the gender that is afraid to negotiate for the salary we truly deserve and only a few of us (not sure I am one of those confident few) have got this skill locked down. Rather than think about the value we are bringing to the table, we are more concerned about our employer’s wallet, emotions and perception of us. After all, they are doing us a ‘HUGE FAVOUR’. Right?
6. Fear of being found out
So it could be that you have just been promoted, got a bigger role or you were asked to lead a team. Rather than look forward to what lies ahead, the fear of being found out cripples your once dreamy and confident self.
7. Fear of showing your work
This is closely related to one of the signs above and I will say it is common among creatives working in any sector. What happens here is that you hide your work like your life depends on it. This is because your greatest fear is that showing your work will confirm your worst fear and insecurity of not being good, worthy or deserving of the opportunity or the platform to be visible, as well as the position you currently occupy.
8. Inability to handle success and validation
So you get listed among the best talent or one of the most successful people in your field but reading what is being written about you scares the sh*t out of you. You wonder who this high-achiever is, because you can’t seem to recognise your own success and achievement. You may also begin to feel timid when you are in the company of other equally successful or talented people, because you are not sure how you got to be among them in the first instance.
9. Inability to handle feedback and criticism
Feedback (whether good or bad) doesn’t make you feel any better or less. The worst type of feedback would usually be the negative ones, because if not properly internalised, can reinforce and validate your self-imposed assumption of being a phoney and about to be exposed as such.
10. Always anticipating the worst
You are often envisaging when and how your success streak will run out. That is, you are slowly anticipating that the other shoe will drop or that your ‘luck’ will run out sooner than later. If it is not that, it is the fear of how you are going to top that last milestone and maintain your newly acclaimed status quo.
11. Always feeling judged
I decided to add this because having ’10’ in the headline seemed way cooler than 11. Sorry, I digressed. What was I saying again… Yes, the feeling of being judged is unavoidable if you always feel like an Impostor. This is so because being on top of your game and the fact that you have risen or are gradually rising to become an influencer in your field comes with the unwanted weight and realisation (often imagined) that the world is watching you and judging your every move. If it is not this, then it is being fixated on the notion that the world does not want you to believe that you deserve all that you have worked for.
Can you identify any of the signs above in your life or can you add to the list? In the words of Zig Ziglar, ‘the first step in solving a problem is to recognise that it exists’. Please go ahead and list any other signs I might have missed out.
I hope to share with you next time how I am slowly overcoming the Impostor Syndrome. So watch out!