Updated: May 13, 2022
It seems hard to believe, but most people who question their knowledge feel like a fraud. As a matter of fact, a majority of professionals feel like they were just “winging it”. This phenomenon is called Imposter Syndrome, a term coined by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. It is basically when very skilled people dismiss the evidence to support that they are adequate. They believe that their success was due to luck, timing or just appearing competent. They are often worried about being found out or that other people will see through the mask of appearing proficient. Clearly, these fears are anxiety based and often irrational. Anxiety offers us a distorted view of ourselves and of our value. Despite success and positive feedback successful people are aware of just how much they don’t know, which perpetuates self-doubt.
How common is it? Approximately 70% of people studied report feeling like a fraud at some point (Sakulku, Jaruwan (2011). “The Impostor Phenomenon” (PDF). International Journal of Behavioral Science. 6 (1): 73–92. Retrieved April 25, 2017). Interestingly, these tend to be people who are very successful. They have a fear of being “found out” and is what drives people to be the best at what they do, these are the overachievers. These are the parents of a newborns who read every baby book, women who are in a male dominated profession, they are the high level managers, actors, authors and scientists, etc. The fear of being discovered as a fraud, creates motivation for over-preparation, which in turn indicates superior performace. Despite the effort put forth, the over achiever tends to minimize the praise they receive and instead feel more pressure and fear of failing, perpetuating the Imposter Syndrome.
The surprising lesson to gain from understanding Imposter Syndrome is allow yourself to welcome some of the stress. Our stress response gets us ready for action and motivates us to be productive. This is a benefit to us if we are able to focus on maintain a work/life balance. The goal is to use stress to our advantage verses vilifying stress. We have trained ourselves to shy away from discomfort, but it is exactly what propels us forward. There is a powerful, potentially life changing TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal, entitled How to Make Stress Your Friend (http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend) which helps us reframe stress into a positive experience. In her talk she shows us that if we view stress as an opportunity to “charge into action” we can actually increase our productivity and even our lifespan. McGonigal explains that by thinking of stress as a companion to help us we are more resilient, social and healthier.
In fact, we NEED stress. It is what helps us remain focused and poised for productivity. When we have low stress, like when we are on vacation, we have very low productivity. When we are preparing for that same vacation we find ourselves making lists, getting organized and essentially at our “optimal” performance level. When we have too much stress we often feel overwhelmed and paralyzed. There is an optimal level of stress that we all have where we function the best. This level of stress varies from person to person, but we all need to determine our own optimal level. As you can see in the Yerkes-Dodson Human Performance and Stress Curve, stress is necessary for performance, but we need to maintain a healthy level to remain effective.
IF we are pushing ourselves to go outside our comfort zone, of course it will feel like we are winging it at first, we are. But, we are also preparing ourselves by researching materials, rehearsing dialog and using critical thinking. We should be proud to say that we feel like we arefwinging it, because that means we are still pushing ourselves to learn and grow. If you feel like you are winging it, wear it as a badge of honor that indicates your desire to grow and be the best version of yourself possible. So, embrace your stress and anxiety, use it to propel you toward greatness. Remember that when you do something new and frightening, that nervousness is a positive experience and will fade away as you fine tune your skills. Once it fades, it’s time to challenge yourself again.
** If you are overwhelmed by your stress and anxiety, please contact Clarity Health Solutions for additional support on how to manage your symptoms at (561) 670-6420. If you are suicidal please call 911 or go to nearest Emergency Room.
Jennifer Hoskins-Tomko, LCSW is a Psychotherapist who has been practicing for over 12 years. She has a strong background in trauma work, depression, anxiety, relapse prevention, etc. She is also the business owner of a concierge private practice in Jupiter, Florida. Jennifer and her team provide therapeutic services to a variety of clients of ages 14 and over. Services they provide are individual, couple, family and group therapy.
Monday – Friday9:00 – 5:00