So you got that job, promotion, acceptance into a program, lead on a project or reached another milestone, then all of a sudden you’re hit with destabilizing fear. You question whether you’re capable of taking on that new challenge or whether you are deserving of that opportunity. This feeling is sometimes described as the dreaded imposter syndrome. It comes with an overall feeling of inadequacy and self doubt DESPITE obvious accomplishments and successes. Imposter syndrome may make you feel like a fraudster who is not meant to be in the space you occupy. It makes you feel that you simply got an opportunity by luck, not because you worked hard for it and deserve to be there.
So many of us have dealt with, are dealing with or will deal with imposter syndrome or feelings of self doubt. Imposter syndrome does not discriminate and we may be surprised to learn that many successful people that we see and know deal with it as well. I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts (Jesus and Jollof) by Luvvie Ajayi and Yvonne Orji, two Nigerian American women making great moves in their careers. They talked about their rise to success and moments where they dealt with imposter syndrome despite working really hard to get where they are. Maya Angelou also once said: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out”. If the great novelist Maya Angelou felt like a fraud in her own craft, then it’s a bit comforting to know that imposter syndrome is a common shared experience.
So how do we deal with these feelings of inadequacy? First, acknowledge the feeling for what it is. Remind yourself that you are in that space already and challenge it by reflecting on the steps you had to take to get there. Self appreciation does not have to mean you are full of yourself. Give yourself permission to be proud of yourself. Occupy your space in that role, you’re in it already. You will be doing a great disservice to yourself by cowering to fear and doubt. Luvvie Ajayi in another podcast discussed how imposter syndrome has the potential of being a positive thing. She talked about how it can allow us to feel the potential of being better and it can continually push us to improve ourselves . However, this works only if we challenge it. If not, it can make you fail to do many things out of fear of not being good enough.
If you allow self doubt to make a home in your mind, you will not only be doing a great disservice to yourself but to others who look up to you. Truth is, we feel more confident when we occupy spaces where we see people who look like and sound like us. If there is no one who looks like us in that space, then we even have a greater responsibility as it allows us to pave the way for others. As Marianne Williamson famously said “…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Don’t let imposter syndrome impede your progress and your ability to inspire others. Acknowledge it, challenge it and move on.