So often smart, driven, senior people get in their own way. We have all the tools and capabilities to absolutely nail it, yet impostor syndrome kicks in or we become terrified about how we will effect our future. We start doubting ourselves and our abilities and think “why would anyone listen to me?”
Many high achievers share a secret, deep down they feel like complete frauds and that their accomplishments the result of sheer luck.
This psychological phenomenon, known as imposter syndrome, reflects a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful.
It is one of the biggest limiting factors that prevents individuals from fulfilling their full potential. It can also take various forms, depending on a person’s background, personality, and circumstances. If you’re familiar with the feeling of waiting for those around you to “find you out,” it might be helpful to consider what type of imposter you are so you can problem-solve accordingly.
In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It , Dr. Valerie Young has categorised it into subgroups: the Perfectionist, the Superwoman/man, the Natural Genius, the Soloist, and the Expert.
Through her research she’s found several internal rules that people who struggle with confidence attempt to follow and they can be really helpful in identifying bad habits or patterns that may be holding you back from your full potential.
Below is a summary of the competence types Young identifies can you recognise yourself?
1. The Perfectionist
Perfectionism and imposter syndrome often go hand-in-hand. Think about it: Perfectionists set excessively high goals for themselves and when they fail to reach a goal they experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up. Whether they realise it or not, this group can also be control freaks, feeling like if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves.
Ask yourself these question – have you ever been accused of being a micromanager or had great difficulty delegating? Even when you’re able to do so, do you feel frustrated and disappointed in the results? Do you accuse yourself of “not being cut out” for your job and ruminate on it for days when things don’t go 100% perfect all of the time?
For perfectionists, success is rarely satisfying because they believe they could’ve done even better, which is neither productive nor healthy. Owning and celebrating achievements is essential if you want to avoid burnout, find contentment, and cultivate self-confidence.
Learn to take your mistakes in stride, viewing them as a natural part of the process. In addition, push yourself to act before you’re ready, there is rarely the “perfect time” and your work will never be 100% flawless. The sooner you’re able to accept that, the better off you’ll be.
2. The Superwoman/man
Since people who experience this phenomenon are convinced they’re phonies amongst their real-deal colleagues, they often push themselves to work harder and harder to measure up. But this is just a false cover-up for their insecurities and the work overload may harm not only their own mental health but also their relationships with others.
Ask yourself are you the one who stays later at the office than the rest of your team, even past the point that you’ve completed that day’s necessary work? Do you get stressed when you’re not working and find downtime completely wasteful and yet you have sacrificed your hobbies and passions to work?
Do you feel like you haven’t truly earned your title (despite numerous degrees and achievements), so you feel pressed to work harder and longer than those around you to prove your worth?
To help try to start training yourself to veer away from external validation. No one should have more power to make you feel good about yourself than you—even your boss when they give your project the stamp of approval. On the flip side, learn to take constructive criticism seriously, not personally.
As you become more attuned to internal validation and able to nurture your inner confidence that states you’re competent and skilled, you’ll be able to ease off the gas as you gauge how much work is reasonable.
3. The Natural Genius
Often people with this competence type feel they need to be a natural “genius.” As such, they judge their competence based ease and speed as opposed to their efforts – if it takes them too long to achieve it, they feel shame.
Natural Genuis’s set their internal bar impossibly high, just like perfectionists. But natural genius types don’t just judge themselves based on ridiculous expectations, they also judge themselves based on getting things right on the first try. When they’re not able to do something quickly or fluently their alarm sounds.
Questions you might ask yourself include … are you used to excelling without much effort and do you have a track record of getting “straight A’s” or “gold stars” in everything you do? Were you told frequently as a child that you were the “smart one” in your family or peer group? Do you feel having a mentor is a sign of failure?
When you’re faced with a setback, does your confidence tumble because not performing well? Does it provoke a feeling of shame or do you often avoid challenges because it’s so uncomfortable to try something you’re not great at?
To move past this try seeing yourself as if you are still on a learning journey. Accomplishing great things involves lifelong learning and skill-building for everyone, even the most confident people. Rather than beating yourself up when you don’t reach your impossibly high standards, identify specific, changeable behaviours that you can improve over time.
4. The Soloist
Sufferers who feel as though asking for help reveals their phoniness are what Young calls Soloists. It’s OK to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse assistance so that you can prove your worth.
Typically soloists feel that they need to accomplish things on their own? “I don’t need anyone’s help.” Does that sound like you?
5. The Expert
Experts measure their competence based on “what” and “how much” they know or can do. Believing they will never know enough, they fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.
Think this could be you? Well do you shy away from applying to job postings unless you meet every single educational requirement? Are you constantly seeking out trainings or certifications because you think you need to improve your skills in order to succeed?
Even if you’ve been in your role for some time, can you relate to feeling like you still don’t know “enough?” And do you roll your eyes when someone says you’re an expert?
It’s true that there’s always more to learn. Striving to bulk up your skill set can certainly help you make strides professionally and keep you competitive in the job market. But taken too far, the tendency to endlessly seek out more information can actually be a form of procrastination and overwhelm you to the point you do nothing but learn.
To help overcome this learn new things when you need them not just in case. Also know that there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. If you don’t know how to do something, ask a co-worker. If you can’t figure out how to solve a problem, seek advice from a supportive supervisor, or even a career coach. Mentoring junior colleagues or volunteering can be a great way to discover your inner expert. When you share what you know it not only benefits others, but also helps you heal your fraudulent feelings.
No matter the specific profile, if you struggle with confidence, you’re far from alone. To take one example, studies suggest 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their career.
If you’ve experienced it at any point in your career, then start today accepting and embracing your capabilities and knowing you are in the words of L’Oréal worth it.