You're a successful creative professional, and you have no problem selling your work. People compliment your talent, and you seem to be bringing in more income year after year. Yet, somewhere inside of you is a voice that is doubtful. It wonders if you're even really talented at all.
If the above has happened to you, you're actually not alone. In fact, what you're experiencing is a pretty common condition called impostor syndrome, and it affects people of all ages and from all walks of life. Experts Joan Harvey and Cynthia Katz believe that up to 70 percent of all successful people have experienced feelings associated with impostor syndrome at some point in their work.
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor Syndrome — or an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt or fraudulence — was first officially recognized and named by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance, an American psychology professor in the 1970s who eventually wrote the book "The Impostor Phenomenon." Many people who experience Impostor Syndrome lack confidence and feel that they are somehow fraudulent or phony, despite their level of success. People with the syndrome usually feel that they achieved what they have through hard work, luck or even deception — but not the talents they actually possess.
What Causes Impostor Syndrome?
While no one has nailed down one specific or biological cause of impostor syndrome — and, in fact, most experts believe that there are many causes, there are some common circumstances or experiences that can result in feelings of being an impostor.
- A new or transitional experience (e.g., a promotion, new career, etc.) that causes unfamiliar feelings, and a difficulty to put those feelings in perspective.
- Unrealistic notions about what it means to be competent or a perfectionistic personality.
- Being a minority in a position or situation, and feeling closely monitored (e.g., women as executives in the workplace)
- "The Photograph Album Effect," or a tendency to over-compare yourself to the people around you (particularly when surrounded by successful people and success becomes normalized).
What Are the Drawbacks of Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome obviously sounds unpleasant, but if you've ever suffered from feelings of inadequacy, you know that its effects go well beyond simply a bit of anxiety. If you're a creative professional with impostor syndrome, you may experience some of the following:
- A tendency to procrastinate, and feeling paralyzed to start a project because you are afraid to fail.
- Turning down job opportunities because you are afraid to fail or perform inadequately.
- Physical stress and anxiety, and the health repercussions that come with them.
- Expending so much energy at your work that you lack energy for other areas of your life.
How Creatives Can Combat Impostor Syndrome — Once and For All
If you're a freelance creative, you have to be able to find the motivation to get your own work done and find your own clients. And, if you have impostor syndrome, it can often get in the way of you getting your work done. However, what's important to realize is that every single one of us, whether just starting out or heading our own company, is still learning, and there are times when every person questions his own abilities.
So, if you often feel like a fraud at your craft, you don't have to throw up your hands and give up. Instead, there are some actionable ways you can combat the syndrome, which will ultimately help you find the confidence to get more done.
- In 1978, Clance recommended writing down and keeping track of compliments you receive, instead of blowing them off. Whenever you feel unsure of yourself or your talents, look back at the list, and it will be hard to deny how other people perceive you.
- NYU professor Justin Kruger recommends talking to your mentors and people you admire about your self-doubt. Most often, you'll find that the people you most look up to have the same exact feelings as you -- and you know that they're truly talented!
- Accept promotions. Turning them down is an avoidance tactic. Accepting them will allow you to prove to yourself what you can handle.
- Make a list of what you DON'T know. Experts believe that tackling the things that make you anxious head on will help you face and then overcome those anxieties.
Impostor syndrome is very prevalent, and if you're experiencing it, you don't have to feel alone. Have you ever experienced the feeling of being a fraud at your work? Let us know about your experience and what you did to combat it.
Read More About Impostor Syndrome
- 13 Ways to Fight Back Against Impostor Syndrome
- The Personality Traits that Make Us Feel Like Frauds
- Scientific American: What Is Impostor Syndrome?
- No, You're Not an Impostor
Jones, Jane Redfern. "Unmask Your Talent." Nursing Standard 23.38 (2009): 64.
Buchanan, Leigh. "The Impostor Syndrome." Inc. Magazine Sept. 2006: 37-38. Web.
Frankel, Hannah. "I'm not good enough." The Times Educational Supplement 4873 (Jan 15, 2010): 030.
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