Have you ever felt like all the good stuff that’s happened in your life, was all a bit of a fluke? Even though you know deep down that you’ve worked hard to get where you are, you don’t allow yourself to get hung up on it?
“Siri, define: Impostor syndrome”
“The persistent inability to believe that ones success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.”
I don’t know about you, but since I turned 16 I’ve often felt like a fraud. Any accomplishments I gained - regardless of the effort I put into achieve them - felt more like a result of luck than talent.
Every single job I’ve ever applied for, I’ve been offered.
With the knowledge I have now, looking at that sentence makes me pretty proud. Prior to that knowledge, I was crippled by the feeling that I’d just struck lucky - right place, right time.
**Side note: I don’t believe it’s a bad thing to get turned down for a potential job opportunity. I actually think it’s a constructive way finding out your weak spots, whilst gaining valuable experience.**
My mind passed it off as being ‘humble’, but it wasn’t anything like that. I was under the impression that I didn’t actually deserve what was being offered. I didn’t think I had the qualities they were looking for. I didn’t think any of the interviews went well. I took no positives from any of the experiences I had, and yet I still got the job.
“I guess I’m just lucky.”
There are some that believe this psychological pattern only applies to the successful elite, which to me couldn’t be further from the truth. Regardless of societal hierarchies, anyone who has felt crippling doubts about their abilities - especially whilst being praised for their achievements - are going through the same emotional experience. The intensity may differ depending on circumstance, but the emotions felt are the same.
Anyone who has experienced this phenomenon will know exactly what I mean. It’s so difficult to put your finger on why you think the way you do, but for the purpose of this post, I had a go.
As situations and circumstances alter, our confidence levels follow suit. This is especially true during social interactions.
If I was sat in a room with a group of strangers and forced to create conversation, my confidence in taking part would be low. However, if I was sat in a room with a group of football fans who happened to be strangers, my confidence in contributing to conversation would heighten.
Although the structure of the interaction would be the same, my confidence rose on account of my love for football.
Without my knowledge, a belief has been forged in my mind when it comes to discussions involving people who I have no prior relationship.
‘Unless I have a passion for the topic of discussion, I have almost nothing to contribute.’
When I view that sentence in the cold light of day, I realise how silly it is. Yet, it’s a belief that I’ve never been able to shake.
Applying these thoughts to my achievements, opened my mind to some of the other situational biases I’ve created.
During the summer, my Sunday league football team held their annual awards night.
I arrived in the belief that I’d had a difficult year, and my performances on a Sunday morning reflected that.
I was under no illusions about the potential of receiving an award, and was looking forward to the social aspect rather than the presentation itself. I ended up being given the most improved player award.
Stunned would be an understatement.
When people congratulated me, I replied with the exact same word in the exact same way.
“Cheers”, whilst holding a face of bemusement.
I didn’t know what else to say I mean, I was shit?
There was loads of people who’d improved more than me.
Yet the weird thing was, when I told my family I’d won an award, I did it with a smile on my face. It was like I was able to appreciate how hard I’d worked once the pressure of the situation had been removed. It was almost as if my mind was allowing me - just for a split second - to realise that I’d done well.
I know I know, it’s a pretty small achievement, but it shows that these biases exist.
I also believe that another contributor is other people’s consideration of your opinion.
Everyone likes being asked for their two cents worth, because it makes us feel like our thoughts are valued. However, if we begin to feel like our opinion isn’t being taken into consideration, our confidence around those people diminishes. This causes us to feel anxious whenever we’re in the presence of these people, and eventually leads us to believing that their lack of consideration is warranted.
Take this scenario:
Your boss invites you to a meeting to discuss a future task he’d like you to complete. You go into his office to discover that he’s already put together what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it and who is going to assist you. After attempting to contribute to the planning process, you feel like your ideas and thoughts have been disregarded by your manager, who seems hell bent on doing things his own way. You leave feeling dejected and disinterested with the task at hand.
Now tell me something, the next time your boss invites you to a meeting, how are you going to feel?
For starters the feelings of the previous meeting will recur, along with the procrastinatory tendencies of someone looking for a way out.
Barring a miraculous change in approach from your manager, your mind will always go back to that first meeting. All future engagements will come with the repetitive side order of anxiety, until you eventually start to believe that their inconsiderate nature is justified. You become so used to being told what to do and how to do it, that you struggle to offer your opinion in other areas of your life.
I believe this is where the ‘yes man’, comes from. Not because the individual is a ‘pushover’, but because their initiative has been mismanaged. Their confidence has been suppressed to the point that the thought of maintaining a preference or opinion, brings nothing but apprehension.
Truth be told, I’m not really sure how to gain control over this internalised fear - or if it’s even possible.
Ever since I came to grips with my propensity to down-play my achievements, I’ve attempted to implement different methods for reducing the impact that impostor syndrome has on my choices.
I’ve found that; investing time into development/learning, removing sources of self-doubt and questioning my own thoughts, have been of most benefit in terms of reducing the feelings of uncertainty.
But in all honesty, I’m not really sure if this is something that we can ever truly let go of.
Maybe we’re meant to have periods of self-doubt.
Maybe we’re suppose to question our abilities, every once in a while.
Maybe confidence comes down to perception.
If you are perceived to be confident by others; is that all that matters?