Fake It Until You Make It!

Print First published: March 30th 2021; Last Updated: February 2nd 2022

Photo: Terry and Luna


Although it was first mentioned in the media in 1982, wouldyou believe the term Imposter Syndrome, or to give it its correct title,Imposter Phenomenon, was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary forthe first time in June 2018? Defined as ‘the persistent inability to believethat one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result ofone’s own efforts or skills’, Imposter Syndrome to put it very simply is thatfrequent feeling of being a failure or ‘not good enough’ despite a sustainedrecord of success. 

Sound familiar? Well according to research by ImposterSyndrome expert Kate Atkin, 70% ofpeople will at some stage in their lives experience ‘imposter’ feelings. Iteven affects the rich, famous and super successful, with prominent figuresincluding Jacinda Arden, TomHanks, Michelle Obama,and David Tennant all admitting that they have struggled to ditch theself-doubt.  For some, these feelings maybe short term, but for many others, they can be lifelong.

I can say with some certainty that I fall into the‘lifelong’ category. Leaving school after A levels, and managing to get a Cityjob in what then was a very blue-chip, very conservative Merchant Bank, meantthat for years I felt ‘out of place’, and  ‘not one of them’. I worried that at anymoment, people would find out that I didn’t have a degree or any additionalqualifications, and that I would be sent packing as a result.

I decided to work extremely hard, constantly proving myselfand justifying why I should have my job. Even when things were going well, or Iwas given more responsibility, I was always looking over my shoulder to see ifI had been ‘found out’. I worried that someone would say my successes weren’tdown to me or that I would be accused of not being intellectually rigorous.That constant feeling of inadequacy stayed with me throughout my working life,which spanning 50 years was an awfully long time to be carrying that burden!

But the good thing was that I did succeed. Despite myfeelings of self-doubt and lack of confidence in my abilities I did have anamazing career, and I was able to take on some incredible roles and responsibilitiesand deliver in all of them.

While me and my imposter syndrome have now moved on, for somany people, the struggle is still ongoing.

So, what can we do? Well, based upon years of research, Dr.Valerie Young, another expert on Imposter Syndrome, categorised thephenomenon intofive main subgroups. Most of us can identify with at least one of thesegroups, and one of the keys to tackling Imposter Syndrome lies in identifyingyour type and finding the way to address your doubts. Here is a quick run-downof the five types, and how you can recognise and address each one:

·       The type: The Perfectionist.

How it feels: Does one tinymistake in an otherwise amazing performance make you feel like a failure? Areyou guilty of micromanaging and struggling to delegate? Do you want to achieve100% every single time? If this all sounds familiar then you may well be aperfectionist, meaning you set exceptionally (and perhaps excessively) highgoals for yourself, then fall into self-doubt if you cannot not achieve them. Evenwhen you are successful, you might find yourself asking how you could have doneit better.

What you can do: Try to focuson celebrating and recognising your wins and achievements. Also learn to acceptthat mistakes are part of your learning journey. You’re human so expecting tobe 100% flawless all the time is setting yourself up for failure.

The type: The Super person.

How it feels: Does downtime leaveyou stressed because you feel like you should be working? Are you always thelast one in the office, even when you’ve finished all the work you need to getthrough? Have you let your hobbies and passion slide because you’re spending allyour time focusing on work?

What you can do: Super people canbecome addicted to the validation and praise from work, so try to encourageyourself to find other internal sources of validation. No one should have morepower to make you feel good (or bad) about yourself that you!

The type: The Natural Genius.

How it feels: Achieved straight A's throughout your life? Always labelled as ‘the smart one’? Used to excelling without the effort?Hello Natural Genius.  Just like theperfectionist you can set your standards extremely high and try to avoid anythingthat takes you out of your comfort zone? Why? Because not excelling atsomething can send your confidence down a rabbit hole.

What you can do: Instead of thinkingyou always have to shine, try to remember that we’re all still changing andgrowing. Success tends to mean long term learning, change and growth, soinstead of stepping away from any areas where you don’t feel like a pro, tryand find areas where you can improve

·       The type: The Soloist.

How it feels: Is ‘I don’t need help’high on your most uttered phrases list? Feel like you have to do everything onyour own? Then you could be a soloist.  

Whatyou can do: Take a deep breath, and remember that asking for help doesn’tmean that others will think you’re an imposter. Being independent is great, butit shouldn’t come at the cost of refusing the support and help that you need.

·       The type: The Expert.

How it feels: Even after years inyour field, do you feel like you don’t know enough? Does being labelled as anexpert in your area stress you out? Do you always feel like you need to do onemore course, one more qualification, and gain that one more bit of experience?Wanting to know more isn’t a bad thing – we can all learn more! That beingsaid, if you are constantly focusing on learning more, can hold you back.

What you can do: Just like thesoloist, learn that there is nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t knowsomething, and asking for help from a more knowledgeable, or senior colleague.

Even though it is something that we seem to have onlyrecently officially defined, Imposter Syndrome is certainly something that alot of us are continuing to struggle with. Being able to talk freely and beinghonest about your feelings, having a mentor to support you, or seeking helpfrom a mental health professional can all be powerful antidotes to addressself-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.

 And if you are stillfeeling the doubt, there’s a great saying ‘Fake it until you make it’ – I certainlydid, and believe me, it’s that easy!


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