What do these four celebrities have in common (apart from fame)? And do you know who the guy in the bottom right is?! It might surprise you that these incredibly successful people have all spoken about dealing with Imposter Syndrome.
It seems bizarre that after striving for what you want in your career, putting in more hard yards than you can count, you might come out the other side feeling undeserving of your success.
But that’s how it is for people who suffer from Imposter Syndrome, a feeling of inadequacy and a baseless fear that you’ve faked your way to success. Rather than feeling triumph in reaching their goals, these people feel like they are never good enough.
The effect can be detrimental both professionally and personally and, to at least some degree, most of us can relate to it.
I got to thinking about Imposter Syndrome after reading that many extremely successful people have struggled with it, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, author Neil Gaiman and even Neil Armstrong (above, bottom right), the first man to walk on the moon!
Actress Emma Watson says the feeling increased as she became more successful: “I’m just going, ‘Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved’.”
Are we all Imposter Syndrome sufferers?
I think this imposter feeling is something most people who have experienced some level of career or business success can identify with – that nagging question in the back of your mind: am I good enough?
And, in fact, American educational psychology researcher Dr Kevin Cokely has conducted several studies into Imposter Syndrome and says 70 percent of the population reportedly feel like an imposter.
A little bit of doubt can be a good thing if it spurs you on to work harder and go that little bit further. I like Chris Martin’s comment on this: “It’s helpful to have some arrogance with paranoia. If we were all paranoia, we’d never leave the house. If we were all arrogance, no one would want us to leave the house.”
But doubt becomes detrimental if it starts eating away at your confidence and affecting your performance.
I’m not an expert like Dr Cokely (or world-renowned actor/author/astronaut for that matter!), but I have developed my own techniques for dealing with doubt.
Reality-check your success
First and foremost, I think it’s important to learn to differentiate between self-doubt and reality. This takes practice.
I’ve found that logically assessing your own achievements is a good way to tackle negative thought and emotions. Do a regular stocktake of your quantifiable, tangible achievements – actually write them down to make them more ‘official’ and so you can see in black and white what you’ve done.
And try not to just focus on the end goal. Even when you’re constantly striving to reach the summit, it’s important to take a moment to enjoy the view on your way up by celebrating the milestones – big and small – along the way.
Get a fresh perspective on your performance
It’s true that we’re our own harshest critics and it’s easy to get caught up in your own self-doubt so it can help to ask others for their perspective on your abilities and what they see as your achievements.
Talking to people about the “am I good enough?” imposter thoughts can help you recognise that the thoughts are not a true reflection of your abilities, nor are they unusual – you’re likely to find others have felt the same way.
Seek out a supportive environment
Surround yourself with positive people who recognise and build your sense of worth. In a workplace, it can be as simple as having colleagues who give you positive feedback and acknowledge your achievements.
Mentors can also be incredibly effective in this regard. Whether you seek out a mentor through an official programme or opt for a more casual mentoring arrangement – perhaps with a colleague you admire – this type of professional relationship is a great way to get a career and confidence-boosting perspective on your skills and performance. The reverse is also true: becoming a mentor to someone else can benefit their career and give your confidence a boost at the same time.
I’ve discovered that Imposter Syndrome is a more common problem than we might think, but it doesn’t have to be a constant or continuing one. Self-belief is a must in business, so it’s important to acknowledge when doubt creeps in and deal with it so that you’re not dragged down by false thoughts.
Chris Niarchos is a lifelong entrepreneur and founder of The Cobra Group of Companies, which specialises in incubating, developing and managing a portfolio of start-up enterprises and successful companies.