Overcoming Feeling Like an Impostor

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“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.'”

– Maya Angelou

Do you ever worry about being “found out”? I’m not talking about being a criminal like having a Ponzi scheme, pulling a Madoff, and being afraid of being arrested. I’m talking about feeling like an imposter when you really aren’t one. Do you get the feeling that you aren’t good enough or are a fake? At some point in your life—whether personally or professionally—it’s natural to feel that way. Having thoughts like, “I’m a fraud and everyone’s going to find out that I don’t know what I’m talking about,” is common, even among some of the most successful people. Believe it or not, it’s typical to question your own worth and qualifications; however, if it bothers you on a daily basis, it’s important to try to find ways to move through it and build confidence in yourself.

It’s helpful to remember that we all make mistakes. Sometimes we know what we’re talking about, and other times we don’t. This all feeds into feeling like an imposter, especially when we don’t have the “right” answers all the time. I’m in disarray at times, and feel like a complete mess when I don’t know the next steps to take in a given situation. I’m sure you’ve had this experience, too. However, it’s possible to feel like a mess and also be intelligent and worthy at the same time. No matter how lost or insecure you might feel at times, it’s important for you to remember that you’re also smart, strong, and worthy of love—even when there are parts of you that you aren’t so proud of. I used to hide those parts of me, out of fear that people wouldn’t accept me because of them. But the truth was, it was me who was failing to accept my flaws. That shame can turn into self-hatred and a fear that hinders you from being your best self, capable of accomplishing great things in this life. Trying to project a perfect persona to the world can make you feel like a fraud. When you know the imperfections hiding behind the mask, you walk around feeling like you’re lying to the world.

You probably fear that people may be critical of your flaws, but others can only love you in direct proportion to what you’re willing to show. Not your masks. Not who you think that you should be. You want someone who loves all of you, flaws included, and that person should be you, too. Because if you hide, you’ll always feel unworthy of love and continue suffering from imposter syndrome.

When you let go and accept that you’re an imperfect person who occasionally experiences moments of insecurity, you’ll begin to feel free. Comedian, actress, and screenwriter Tina Fey has publicly shared her imperfections and insecurities. She’s quoted as saying, “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”

Ways to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

• I sometimes feel like a fraud when I make things a bigger deal than they actually are. Letting go of the idea that you have to be perfect at everything you do helps you say goodbye to some of your excess self-importance. That, in turn, will help you feel like less of a fraud.

• I have a hard time in accepting my role in the things I’ve accomplished. When you aren’t able to accept the part you’ve played in your achievements, it’s easy to feel like a fraud. I was given many opportunities that others weren’t, and I sometimes believe that’s the only reason I’ve accomplished some of the things I have. We all have certain advantages over others, and that can cause us to feel that anything we achieved after that opportunity was undeserved. But you do deserve it. Everyone receives help, one way or another. Always remember that you’re the one who took it to the next level. Plenty of people had similar opportunities but did nothing with them. You deserve to acknowledge and appreciate your successes.

• Give yourself value, and know your worth. You may think, “I don’t know as much as that other person, or someone else will do it better than me.” But you have to know that isn’t true. You have priceless value and unique gifts and that no one else can offer. You, just as much as anyone else, can do it.

• Stop comparing yourself to others. When I compare myself to other people who may appear to have more or know more than me, it’s easy to feel bad about my own life. Your life is never going to seem like the “best” life if you always compare yourself to other people who may have accomplished more or acquired more than you have. But remember, you’re here to live your life, not someone else’s. It’s easy to get sucked into social media and see other people living what appear to be glamorous lives. However, you have to learn to respect your own experience. Just because other people are living a certain way doesn’t give your life less value. The truth is someone else is likely looking at your life wishing they had what you do.

• Being imperfect and not always having the right answers doesn’t make you an imposter. Everyone makes mistakes, and many people are wrong most of the time! Don’t elevate failure, and don’t let it make you feel like you’re unworthy. In my field, we’re often put in the position of being the “expert.” When this happens, people look at you like you should know everything about a certain topic. But that’s simply impossible. Nobody can know everything about everything. I just say what I can and share my limitations honestly. People respect this. It shows that I’m honest enough to tell the truth. Be willing to admit when you don’t have the answer, then make good on a promise to find out the information.

We can spend hours and hours dwelling on the negative and fearful things in our lives. We worry about what could go wrong instead of focusing and paying attention to the rational, the positive, and the good. We should train ourselves to focus on thoughts that will move us forward in the right direction so we can stop feeling like imposters and accept that we’re all just normal people doing the best we can.

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Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene

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