On Imposter Syndromeby Nonna Polonskaya
As I am about to write these first few words, the alarm bell immediately goes off in my head:
“Who am I to write about the Imposter Syndrome…What do I know about silencing the crippling voices of self-doubt in my head?”
Does this script sound familiar?
It is a feverish talk that swells in our heads now known by many as ‘Imposter Syndrome’. While it may feel like a condition only a select few would experience, it is a vice of many successful people.
If you have any of these symptoms, you may be in trouble:
…you want your work to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time.
…you get stressed when not working and you find downtime wasteful, not relaxing.
…you fear taking on challenges because you feel you are not good enough.
…you feel you don’t know enough, even if others think you’re an expert.
The diagnosis is that your mind is infected with Imposter Syndrome, and, if not treated with care, it might leave permanent marks on your self-esteem.
(For more explanation on which type of Imposter Syndrome you are suffering from, check here).
There is a lot of research about this ailment as it has been lingering around for a while. The traditional remedies range from celebrating your achievements, embracing authenticity, setting more realistic goals to practicing self-love. These are all great ideas, but to me, these sound like a to-do list in case of emotional emergency and a bullet-proof recipe for overall well-being.
Instead, I negotiate with the impostor in my mind, a few powerful arguments have helped me to fight the bug. I want to share these with you in the hope they might be a much-needed patch on a sore and aching wound:
Thank you, evolution.
One evening, snuggled up with “Sapiens” (by Yunal Noag Harari) and immersed into 70,000 BC, I learned that Homo Sapiens were off to a mediocre start – not much better than the average ape placed right in the middle of the food chain. Then evolution worked its magic and gave us a bigger brain capable of imagining abstract ideas. Ever since then humans have lived in a dual reality: one that surrounds us like nature, and another one that is going on inside our own heads. This was a game-changer and it has enabled humans to brave the elements, travel to new places, conquer the animal kingdom, master fire etc. With this creative cognitive ability, humans then created a whole world of imagined realities like nations, cultures, religions, money and law. While this ability to think abstractly is the fuel of all mankind’s achievements, it also means that our brains are capable of imagining realities that are to our detriment. So Impostor Syndrome is a side effect of our incredibly powerful imagination, a small price to pay in return for the ability to develop, adapt and form meaningful social ties.
However, evolution is smart and it ensures that the strongest and fittest survive. Worry and self-doubt were rummaging in our ancestor’s brains to ensure they survived, so who is to say that Impostor Syndrome isn’t a mutated version of that worry, just to ensure we are pushing ourselves harder, embracing challenges and developing?
Imperfect universe, imperfect you.
Sometimes our malady makes us believe that if something is less than perfect, it is not good enough. Most sufferers of Imposter Syndrome strive for perfection, they loathe the thought of making a mistake and they curse themselves for not being up to the job. On the other hand, if they succeed, then it must be down to pure luck rather than hard work and dedication.
First of all, no one is perfect, and guess what …neither is the universe. According to Stephen Hawking, if it was not for the stroke of cosmic luck, the universe wouldn’t exist. Before the universe was created, there was a sea of gas. The tiny imperfections and irregularities in density allowed the gravity to pull the gas together, which is where the stars and galaxies were born. Imperfection and the lack of order are the very reasons we exist, so why do we ask of ourselves to be perfect when the world around us is anything but perfect? So in the attempt to immunise ourselves from the unnecessary perfectionism, let’s recognise ourselves as works-in-progress, moving along learning curves and adapting akin to the universe itself.
“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist” – Stephen Hawking
Badge of honour.
As Imposter Syndrome spreads its doubt-creating venom through our veins, our brain comes to the conclusion that we are frauds. First of all, we as humans are inherently not very good at realistically assessing our abilities, however, the very fact we doubt ourselves is a viable sign that we might be more capable than we think. The truly incompetent rarely worry about being truly incompetent. Dunning-Kruger effect is a scientific proof to that. More than 100 studies have shown that those of us with the least ability are often the most likely to exaggerate their skills. On contrary, those of us with more abilities know enough to recognise how much we still do not know.
So if you doubt yourself, wear this feeling as a badge of honour as it is a proof that you might not be a fraud after all. Because true impostors do not feel like impostors.
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts” -Bertrand Russell
So whenever the fever strikes, remind yourself that this doubt-creating bug lives only in our imagination.
However unpleasant the symptoms are, it is a sign that you are more capable than you think, and its purpose is to build up your mental immunity system to withstand any future storms.