Have you ever experienced the feeling that you were in over your head and didn’t belong in your work or student environment? Or thought that your accomplishments were due to lucky breaks making you feel like a fraud? These are telltale symptoms of imposter syndrome. And it could be affecting your current and future financial success.
The phenomenon is more common than you might think. Scientific research reveals a significant statistic on imposter syndrome: about 70% of people will experience its symptoms at some point during their lives.
Impostor syndrome is usually associated with high performers, and a recent paper also suggests that people experience it when starting a new position or joining a new organization.
In this article we examine what’s imposter syndrome, how it can affect your financial success, and ways you can deal with it.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome occurs when people get the impression or feeling that they’re not as capable as others perceive them to be despite being competent. Business professor and socialization researcher Dr. Richard Gardner at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas adds that when people experience impostor syndrome, they “feel like a fraud in an organization despite being capable, accomplished, and qualified.”
The term was first defined in the late 70’s by psychologists Paulina Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. They conducted a study of women who felt they didn’t deserve their success despite evidence to the contrary. They believed their accomplishments were based on luck, without acknowledging their capabilities.
But subsequent research highlights the fact that this phenomenon isn’t gender-specific: it seems to be widely experienced. So people from different walks of life can feel like an impostor regardless of gender, age or social status.
Is impostor syndrome a real feeling?
Imposter syndrome is a real feeling, but it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Some feel it when starting a new position or joining a new organization. Others may experience it outside of their work circle. Some may even endure it in various environments simultaneously.
Professor Gardner explains: “People may feel like an impostor while at work, but not in other settings, such as with their family.” For others, however, “it can be a persistent feeling across lots of environments” he says.
If you’re wondering whether there’s an independent imposter syndrome test, the answer is simple: there isn’t one. Scholars such as Gardner measure this feeling by asking people how much they agree to questions such as: “I’m afraid people important to me may find out that I’m not as capable as they think I am.”
So while there isn’t a “test” for impostorism – as impostor syndrome is sometimes called, you can check whether it’s afflicting you by identifying some of its common symptoms.
Imposter syndrome symptoms
The signs of impostor syndrome vary, but in general, behavioral scholars have found the following common traits:
- Feelings of self-doubt. You experience intense feelings of apprehension and self-doubt when tackling new challenges or during periods of change.
- Fear of failure. Your performance standards are too high and unsustainable, producing a major fear of failure.
- Over-preparation for tasks. This is the tendency of over-preparing for projects or tasks to avoid “being exposed as a phony.”
- A tendency to discount praise. You feel you don’t deserve to be recognized for your accomplishments. And you attribute your achievements to luck, chance or other factors outside your control.
- Feeling like a fraud. You experience that “I’m in over my head and people are going to find out I’m a phony” feeling.
- Experiencing guilt about success. You may feel that your success harms your relationships with others and experience guilt for being motivated to perform.
- Feeling like you need to be the very best. You have high and unrealistic expectations of what you consider competence or being competent.
- Feeling uncomfortable with your own achievements. You feel uncomfortable when others see you as a top performer.
People with impostor syndrome can’t fully accept their own success as being the natural consequence of their own abilities. This can often feed feelings of anxiety and self-doubt.
In addition, people experiencing impostorism reject positive feedback about their own contributions: They perceive their success as not necessarily being the result of their efforts.
How can impostor syndrome affect your financial success?
Impostor syndrome can affect your finances if it keeps you from pursuing a more challenging and better-paying job for which you’re qualified. “In that sense,” says Gardner, “we become our own worst enemy.”
Experiencing feelings of intense inadequacy may prevent you from taking work or business opportunities consistent with your level of achievement. And this feeling that your past success is only due to chance or connections may lead to self-sabotage, affecting your mental and financial well-being.
Feeling like an imposter can also upset your entrepreneurial drive. Perhaps you haven’t pursued your online business idea, for example, because of your fear of failure.
» Further reading: Ways To Cope With Money Stress: 5 Simple Strategies.
In addition to affecting your desire to move to better jobs or take on new business opportunities, impostorism can cause you to take an early exit from a job when, in fact, you’re performing well.
Gardner adds: “Oftentimes we compare ourselves with people in better positions and contrast all of their strengths with all of our weaknesses. Thus, we don’t feel qualified.”
Dealing with imposter syndrome
To cope with impostor syndrome, you need to overcome persistent beliefs about your lack of skills or competence. Adjusting how you think about success isn’t easy, but it’s essential to develop your confidence and help you deal with these feelings.
Steps to deal with imposter syndrome
- Recalibrate who you compare yourself to. Setting the bar too high can cause feelings of inadequacy. So it helps to look for a more applicable standard to your personal situation. “People need to make sure they appropriately calibrate who they are comparing themselves to and on what attributes,” professor Gardner says.
- Look for support from people outside your circle. Reaching out to people who aren’t part of the environment where you feel like a fraud may give you a different perspective on your achievements. Reaching out to family, friends and others can be positive.
- If you’re performing, remind yourself of it. Reminding yourself of your accomplishments helps get them recognized by your greatest critic: you. Reward yourself, appreciate and celebrate your wins.
- Look for support. Seeking the support of others and building relationships with peers can help boost confidence. Networking inside and outside the workplace can help you feel more comfortable with your talents.
- Adjust your definition of competence. When you’re doing your work well, it doesn’t mean that you’re “faking it” because you feel others are more competent. We’re all human. Even those you consider extremely competent make mistakes.
- Focus on your strengths. Fixating on past mistakes can lead you to overlook your own strengths. Focusing on your personal advantages can help you cope with stress and angst.
- Accept your accomplishments. Avoid downplaying your accomplishments and assuming that if you can do it, anybody else can too. Change how you think about yourself.
If you think you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, acknowledge your feelings as a first step. It’s important that you break your thinking pattern and reframe your beliefs about your accomplishments and how others see them.
Start by discarding the idea that you’re not good enough or are somehow lucky in your success. Reminding yourself of your achievements and focusing on your strengths can invigorate your confidence to overcome impostor syndrome.
Researchers (Clance, 1985, among others) have determined that a number of factors can contribute to impostorism: Perfectionism, family environment and culture can lead to impostor syndrome.
Overcoming impostor syndrome involves reframing your beliefs about your competence and acknowledging your feelings. Steps you can take include: looking for support outside your circle, networking, redefining your standard of competence and celebrating your successes.
The main example or symptom is feeling that you don’t deserve your accomplishments, worrying that they might be exposed as a fraud. Other symptoms include over-preparing to accomplish tasks fearing you’re not entitled to make mistakes and setting unsustainable, high expectations for yourself.
It varies. Some people experience it temporarily; for example, when starting a new job. For others, it can be a life-long feeling.