“Man creates both his god and his devil in his own image. His god is himself at his best, and his devil is himself at his worst”.
It is six in the morning on a Friday. My alarm clock just went off and I get out of bed instantly. It is still pitch-dark outside when I pull out the curtains and open the window in order to ventilate the room. As I do, I feel the cold air of winter in Paris crash against my skin. Unlike most people, I find this feeling rather pleasant and awakening, especially when you were unable to have a good night’s sleep. I get the exact same feeling as I leave the office, after having spent an entire day behind a computer.
The lights are still off as I open the door of my room and go to the bathroom. After a few additional seconds of darkness, I finally turn the light on, and it is at that moment that every single sense in my being goes into alert mode. Sweat starts to run down my spine, along with the feeling that my heart is going to beat out of my chest. I freeze for a couple of seconds, trying to process what is happening, although this feeling is no stranger to me. I have even become quite familiar with it.
I look at the man in the mirror, with only one thought crossing my mind: “Today is the day they will find out. Today is the day I will finally be exposed”.
This feeling accompanies me whenever a new chapter in my life is about to start. It also accompanies me after the integration period and the fact that I got used to this new phase I find myself in. I felt it when I first came to France as an exchange student. I felt it again when I started my program in one of the best business schools of France. I felt it as well when I did my first internship abroad, in insurance. Sometimes, it does not have to be related to new environments; it is quite possible to feel in our comfort zone sometimes: amongst friends, family, teammates and so on.
There is no real way to describe what it feels like, what starts to shake itself up inside of you. One thing for sure is that you start to feel sick, unease about where you are going to be for the rest of the day. You start to watch your every move, your every thought, your every decision, your every word as you do not want to be caught on a mistake. You tend to watch your back, turning your workplace into a war zone, unsure where the next strike is going to come from.
It is all happening… in one’s head.
There is a thin line between lacking confidence in one’s self and this feeling. The former can be treated with practice and repetition, whereas the latter is always going to be there, in your subconscious, acting as a constant reminder that today will be the new day you will be exposed for whom you truly are.
Yes, this feeling has a name, and it is actually a psychological syndrome: it is called ‘The Imposter Syndrome’.
The Imposter Syndrome is best described as the constant feeling of getting away with something – even if that is not the case whatsoever – and that you will be caught for it. Regardless of the fact that you have the qualifications for the position or whether that you have completed a specific task a thousand times, part of you feels like a fraud and sooner or later someone better is going to walk through the door and take your place. Accomplishments and hard work seem weak and unable to outweigh whatever pressure you put yourself under.
Imposter Syndrome is not a diagnosable psychiatric disorder, but rather an accumulation of particular traits that add up to a life which has not been lived to its maximum potential.
The causes for developing the syndrome are numerous. However, it tends to have a strong correlation with the praises and comments one receives – or not – after having done something on their own. Even when praised, people with Imposter Syndrome may struggle to accept the praise or compliment, as if they are not worthy of it. They start to develop a negative view of themselves and of their achievements on an internal level. Long story short, you start to feel like you are just not good enough for whatever position you are occupying.
Other than feeling like a fraud, symptoms can include perfectionism, struggle with criticism, peer comparison and overworking.
“We may have done what the devil said we did, but we are not who he said we are”.
–April Cofield Essix
It is very hard and challenging to overcome Imposter Syndrome. Coming to think of it, one would actually be asking oneself to change particular core traits about one’s personality. Also, it is not easy to cope with it when we perceive it as a weakness, especially when we look around and see all those smart, successful people who have their lives all sorted out. Funny thing is, this is where the irony lies.
“Only real frauds do not suffer from Impostor Syndrome.”
The most common representation of someone showing symptoms of Imposter Syndrome would be a smart, successful person who appears to have their life organized on the outside. This is particularly the case of entrepreneurs, like Mike Cannon-Brookes points out in his TED Talk here.
Having gone the unpleasant experience himself, Cannon-Brookes says that the only way to deal with Imposter Syndrome is to give it your best shot at whatever it is that you are doing. In that perspective, the syndrome can actually become a productivity and ambition booster. In the end, every single person you meet knows something that you do not, meaning that you know something that they do not. The street goes both ways.
There is always room for improvement, for learning something new. By doing so, one can make sure of their expansion on all levels, particularly professionally and skilfully. Improvement and growth are important factor in a person’s life, but they are not the only things that matter. In the end, there is no such thing as eternal growth. With patience and progress, one can start to change their view of themselves. Just remember, even the most successful people experience Imposter Syndrome, so you and I are not the only ones feeling that way.
“Believing in yourself is the first secret to success.”