We live in an age where comparing ourselves to others has never been easier.
From Instagram feeds to Facebook profiles, every waking moment of our digital lives we’re subjected to the highlight reels of others.
Too many of us are comparing, competing and benchmarking our own success by watching the stories our connections, peers, colleagues and complete strangers online.
And at what cost?
Well, it’s a one way street down the path of Imposter Syndrome.
To some, my career may seem to be a story about creating success from the ground up. A guy who landed a gig right of university, started his own business, got a new gig with a great agency, worked his way up the ladder and then quit before starting his own company all over again.
But what’s not often seen is the struggle.
One day you feel on top of the world after getting a standing ovation for a presentation. You take that momentum into the rest of your day by getting to inbox zero, delivering a project for a client, launching a new blog and closing a new deal.
Satisfaction never felt so good.
But the next week it’s a completely different story.
You’re in the dumps because you’re second guessing why you ever decided to announce you’re writing a book. You read the blog posts of others and presume they’re 10x better than you. You see announcements of other entrepreneurs killing it and a few friends posting photos in the Bahamas. The spiral continues and you prevent yourself from moving forward.
The feeling continues and you slow yourself from moving forward. You doubt your abilities. You forget your past success. And remind yourself that you’re only as good as your latest work.
You’re not alone in going through this.
Even the megastar comedian, Tina Fey has felt this way and describes quite perfectly in an interview with a British newspaper:
The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.
In 1978, two american psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, gave this feeling of being a fraud a name. It was called the imposter syndrome. The two psychologists described it as a feeling of ‘phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable, or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”
And it’s not just Tina who feels this way.
Debbie Millman, the host of the Design Matters podcast and author who has interviewed hundreds of creators over the years described one common trait amongst makers:
The one common denominator [that great thinkers and creators] have shared with me over the years is that they all feel like they have to get up every day and do it again. They all feel like they may very well be discovered as phonies, they very well may never, ever achieve what they had hoped.
You may feel like you haven’t accomplished enough to start your own business. You may feel you don’t have what it takes to write a book. You may start to second guess whether or not you deserve a raise or promotion. You may second guess if you’re actually qualified to be managing someone older than you.
All of this second-guessing is pointless.
If someone gave you a promotion, you deserved it. If someone gave you a board seat, you earned it. If someone gave you a compliment after a presentation, you killed it.
Why Do We Feel This Way?
Feelings of doubt are often found in people who are already successful but constantly push themselves to achieve more. And while this can be good in the sense that you’re constantly striving for more, it can be bad if it stops you in your tracks from taking steps towards living the life you deserve.
In the book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, Valerie Young talks about how Imposter Syndrome often holds people back:
The thing about “impostors” is they have unsustainably high standards for everything they do. The thinking here is, If I don’t know everything, then I know nothing. If it’s not absolutely perfect, it’s woefully deficient. If I’m not operating at the top of my game 24/7, then I’m incompetent.
This false belief stops you from putting your name in the hat for a new job.
It stops you from offering your opinion on an important decision in the office.
Instead of feeling like a fraud, spend time understand what goes into making someone an expert. It’s their experience. It’s their knowledge. It’s their ability to shed light on things that the average person wouldn’t know.
Focus on the value you bring; not the accolades and accomplishments that you have yet to achieve.
At the end of the day, you’re good.
You can likely improve here and there. Everyone can.
But right now, you’re exactly where you deserve to be.
No more, no less.
Understand that this feeling of fraud is often found in people who are often smart or creative. Bradley Voytek, a professor in cognitive and neuroscience and TEDx speaker described his own academic experience as a situation in which he was met with these feelings:
Anecdotally, [imposter syndrome] appears to be fairly rampant among academics and other “smart” people. At some point during your career, possibly more than once, you will look at your peers and think to yourself, “I’m not as good as they are; I am not cut out for this…
Or as British philosopher Bertrand Russell put it: “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
So the next time you feel like you don’t deserve a seat at the table – stop it.
You’re good. You’re probably damn good.
For me, when I hear that voice second-guessing whether or not I deserve something – I’m reminded that a true imposter would never think such a thing. So I step back, put in my headphones, drink some coffee and make things happen.