The headline of this article suggests an exciting cliffhanger, and the name of the “syndrome” we are discussing might cause a small smile for those unfamiliar with it. For us, a serious topic to bring to attention. Increasingly, we supervise young(er) highly educated professionals and observe in conversations that some professionals are stubbornly self-doubting. Fortunately, more and more literature is appearing on this topic.
“How could this employer have chosen me?” “I finished a year into my education and have no idea if I can handle that position.” “When does it strike you that I can’t do any of it?”
These and other quotes are uttered and/or frequently haunt the minds of some professionals. Often the environment then helps to remove the obstructing beliefs and convince the professional in question that he/she can do it and is suitable for the job(career coaching can then often offer solutions). Unfortunately, the durability of these beliefs is often of limited duration.
Do the above statements sound familiar to you? Do you recognize friends or colleagues who experience these recurring doubts? We prefer not to put stickers, they are already put enough. Still, it may help to read that this is more common and that you are not the only one and are certainly not alone. If, despite your success, you tend to believe that you are not intelligent enough and that others rate you too highly, you may be “suffering” from imposter syndrome (also called “the fall through” syndrome). You then (mistakenly) feel that others may discover at any moment that you are not at all as smart, witty or capable as you may appear to them. It is often described in relation to work or career, but it also occurs in social situations.
Anyone can suffer from it
The “fall through the basket syndrome” is mostly attributed to women in the literature, but research suggests that men “score” just as high here. There is -perhaps unexpectedly- no strong correlation between imposter feelings and lack of self-confidence.
Fortunately, something can be done about it. We have outlined a 10-step plan below and also offer coaching focused on this topic. In any case, start working on it, because the consequences of a long-term suffering from constant fear of falling through are not insignificant: either you avoid all challenges and downplay your successes, or you work yourself to the bone to avoid mistakes that make you more likely to be burnout.
- Break the silence. Don’t be ashamed about your feelings of being a cheater and share them. To know that you are not alone in this already helps a lot;
- Separate feelings from facts. Just because you feel stupid doesn’t mean you are;
- Normalize your self-doubt in situations where you are actually the only woman, man or professional outsider;
- Emphasize the benefits. Perfectionism may indicate a healthy ambition to excel. Only you should not want to excel in all areas. Do your best when it really matters, but allow yourself to do routine tasks on autopilot. Forgive yourself when the inevitable mistake occurs once;
- Develop a new way of dealing with mistakes and failure. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to start over in a smarter way.
- Clean up your own rules. If your rule was “you must always know the answer” and “you must not ask for help” realize that you have as much right as anyone else to be wrong, not know, have a bad day or ask for help;
- Develop new internal software. So not at a new job thinking ‘just wait until they find out I don’t have a clue what I’m doing’ but ‘Everyone who starts somewhere new feels a little insecure in the beginning. I may not know everything but I’m smart enough to figure it out.’
- Visualize your success. Just like a successful sportsman or woman. Instead of imagining disasters;
- Reward yourself! If you manage to break a vicious cycle, give yourself a sincere pat on the back;
- Fake it ’til you make it. Don’t wait until you can do it before you do it but also take risks. Your self-confidence will grow with you.