How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence

I was hosting our monthly multipotentialite mixer in the Puttytribe the other day and someone asked about imposter syndrome.

You know, imposter syndrome! The “psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.” (Wikipedia)

Almost immediately, several people piped up in the chat: Yes! This is something I experience, too. 

Are multipotentialites more likely to experience imposter syndrome than other people? And more importantly, how do you make it go away?!

I immediately turned to Puttylike to find a blog post to share. I’m certain I’ve written about this before…

Turns out I haven’t!

I did write about it in my book, How to Be Everything, though.

Maybe I’m feeling a bit of imposter syndrome here…but responding to someone’s cry for help with: “buy my book!” seemed super lame. ;) (Of course, I typed up a few suggestions off the top of my head. We actually ended up having a really great discussion.)

But imposter syndrome is such a common challenge for multipotentialites, that I’d really like for this information to be freely accessible. So, today I’m publishing an excerpt from my book. I hope this helps.

**

Multipotentialite Ailment #4: Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a belief that deep down, you are a fraud, that you shouldn’t be here, and that one day everyone will wake up and realize it.

The funny thing about imposter syndrome is that it tends to get worse, not better, as bigger opportunities and successes come our way. When my TED talk was featured on TED.com, I was elated. In the weeks that followed, I received accolades and heartfelt thank-yous—incredible e-mails and messages from all over the world. And all I wanted to do was hide under my bed. They all think I’m so smart, but what if my ideas are utter garbage?! What if I’m a big fat phony?! I don’t even have any credentials!!!

Over time, as I began to see the impact my work was having on people’s lives and I focused on new work projects, I started to believe in myself again. But you better believe that imposter syndrome has come up again for me—maybe even during the writing of this book. What if the publisher was wrong about me and they think this manuscript is terrible and demand that I return my advance?!!

You get the idea.

Here are a few ways to deal with the disheartening fantasy of imposter syndrome:

1. If you were actually an imposter, you wouldn’t get imposter syndrome.

Imposters are liars, bent on tricking others and profiting from that deceit. I’m pretty sure you aren’t one. You aren’t trying to deceive anyone. You’re just trying to do good work, and the effort to create something new sometimes always inspires uncertainty.

Philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” If you occasionally doubt yourself, take it as a sign that you’re one of the good ones.

2. Refocus on the work itself.

Imposter syndrome usually arises when we become preoccupied with what others might be thinking or saying about us. Instead of focusing on how you are perceived, get back to work. Show yourself through your own actions that you know what you’re doing. Turn the negativity and fear in your head into action.

3. Everyone feels this way sometimes.

Everyone experiences imposter syndrome from time to time. Well, okay, not everyone. As we just discussed, con artists probably don’t experience imposter syndrome. But every well-meaning person who is pursuing something that matters to them feels as though they don’t belong some of the time.

As the saying goes, try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. If you’re standing in a room full of colleagues, I guarantee you that you aren’t the only one feeling like there’s been a big mistake and you actually shouldn’t be there.

Excerpted from my book, How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up.

**

So, are multipotentialites more likely to experience imposter syndrome than specialists? Well, maybe. It stands to reason that if you move through fields more frequently and have less experience relative to the people around you, you might feel more like an imposter.

On the flip side, it does, paradoxically, seem like the more accomplished one becomes, the more one seems to experience imposter syndrome. And I’ve heard from many specialists that they too suffer from crippling imposter syndrome. So, I don’t think it’s unique to multipods.

I think, ultimately, if you’re doing something meaningful, imposter syndrome is pretty inevitable. I’m not sure it ever fully goes away, but you can certainly learn how to deal with it when it comes up. And you’re definitely not alone.

Your Turn

How do you deal with imposter syndrome? Please share your tips in the comments!

Emilie Wapnick is the founder and creative director at Puttylike and The Puttytribe, where she helps multipotentialites build lives and careers around ALL their interests. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is the author of the award-winning book, How to Be Everything (HarperCollins), and her TED talk has been viewed 5 million times. Learn more about Emilie here.

23 Comments

  1. Maryske says:

    I need to sit down and actually *read* that book of yours… Had it on my kindle since the day it came out, and still…

    Meanwhile, a tip for the multipods who are in the Tribe: Kiki wrote a very inspirational post about impostor syndrome a while back, called “Impostor Syndrome is Fun”. Here is the link:

    https://forum.theputtytribe.com/t/impostor-syndrome-is-fun/6673

  2. Robin Coffman says:

    Thank you! It is so good to hear that this isn’t only inside of my own mind, but a common thread …

  3. Catalina says:

    I thought it was only me. In fact, I didn’t even know this had a name!!!
    So thanks once again, Emilie, for helping me realize I am not wired all wrong.

    From time to time I do feel like I am basically full of it. Yet, I address it by recurring to one of my surefire soothing techniques: list making.
    So I ask myself “what would a true (insert activity/knowledge I feel I am faking) do?” In other words, “what should I do/know in order to feel less of an imposter?” Then I try to accomplish a number of things on the list.
    See, the thing is that as multipotentialites we have probably been doing whatever it is for a shorter period of time than those we see as experts, and therefore, don’t have it down to a science. It’s not a routine yet, it’s not engrained in our system, so it’s harder for us to see ourselves as that.
    Lists, for me, are the recipe to create systems that will help me in whatever role it is. By following a list, ai am addressing my own insecurities, and from time to time, I will read everything I have written in there and realize “Hey: I DO know this stuff!”

    Hope this makes sense!

  4. Patrick says:

    I only came to realise 12 months ago just quite how much I’ve been affected by imposter syndrome at key stages in my life, it was a pretty depressing but ultimately empowering feeling, once I’d found the tools to help me deal.

    Here’s what works for me: http://www.joekwonjoe.com/new-blog-1/2017/10/28/imposter?rq=imposter

    It’s not a magic bullet, I’m actually in the imposter mindset right now, but it does help when the train pulls back into town.

  5. Paco Hadley says:

    Your paradox that affects specialists at the end of the article sounds very much like the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Those with low ability think they are better than they are, and those with high ability underestimate their competency.

    I’m a juggler because, multipod. When I teach a non-juggler how to keep three balls in the air for a couple of seconds, they suddenly think they are really good, and their confidence goes up because they are comparing themselves to other non-jugglers. But because I’ve trained and practiced and met people who can do amazing things, I’m comparing myself to the best in the world. So the novice juggler overestimates their ability, and I underestimate my ability.

    I think the reason it affects us multipods is because we’re experts at evaluating how much work it will take to “master” a skill, so we see how far still have to go. Specialists have an even clearer picture in their areas because they are comparing themselves to the experts in the field. But put a specialist in an area where they’re unfamiliar, and they are likely to overestimate their abilities.

    And as a side note, I’ve edited this comment incessantly and questioned whether I should even post it because I’m feeling a strong sense of imposter syndrome right now :-)

    • Nirvana says:

      An excellent evaluation, Paco. This just shows that if imposter syndrome had prevented you from sharing your insights, then we wouldn’t be benefitting from your perspective. It is true. I am a writer and editor, and I suffer from imposter syndrome when I compare myself to experts in therror field, and yet

    • Nirvana says:

      Excellent evaluation, Paco! Imagine if you weren’t able to share this interesting perspective just because of imposter syndrome—we would be robbed of these valuable insights. But I know what you mean. As a writer and editor I suffer from imposter syndrome when I compare myself to experts in the field, and yet I feel proud of myself when I try something new. Today, after years, I plucked the courage to start my own blog, only because I realized that even if I fall short in many ways, I can still add value by sharing what I’m passionate about. All the best!

  6. Yolanda says:

    For me, impostor syndrome comes when I think I’m not being original enough, when it feels like I’m just copying what some other notable person has done. I start and stop a lot because of that. I remind myself that there are well over 7 billion people on the planet, so at some point, one person’s idea or project will be very similar to that of someone else. But at the end of the day, they are still unique. I’ll keep doing what makes me happy, what makes me shine. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Emilie!

    • Emilie says:

      I can relate to this. But you’re right, all art (anything creative, really) is influenced by stuff that came before.

      I read this quote once by Joseph Gordon-Levitt where he talks about how when he’s feeling stuck, he tries to focus less on being original and more on being sincere. I love that so much.

  7. Lutero Appel says:

    Hi Emilie!

    Thank you for bringing such an important and necessary subject to people’s lives.
    Citing the impostor syndrome, I mean I’ve had it more intensified in the past. I’m still suffering, but less so. And sometimes it gets more intense again. When the problem normalizes, there remain residues that insist on staying. The question that remains is: what should I do to remove the remnants of the impostor syndrome that persist in staying?
    I think I already know the answer. I’m going to buy your book: How to be everything. So I can learn more about this and how to deal with it.

  8. For me the imposter syndrome really bubbled up as I was starting my blog. What could I possibly say that wasn’t already said on other websites already? But even if some material or topics are the same, it would be impossible if we presented it the same way because every person is unique. Ultimately the main way I deal with imposter syndrome right now is I let it be there :) And then I do the thing anyway.

    • CharCats says:

      That’s the key- “did it anyway”

      I’ve been stopped and changed directions due to this ‘imposter syndrome’ and not moved forward when I should have.

      I’m overall viewing this syndrome as a healthy pause. A checks and balances. Reflect and tell fear to get out of the way because I’m now moving forward.

  9. Nicolas says:

    Here a very interesting imposture syndrome anecdote from Neil Gaiman:
    http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/160603396711/hi-i-read-that-youve-dealt-with-with-impostor

    :-)

    If those both fantastic Neils fell imposture syndrome, I guess we, mere mortals, can manage to live with it. For me, the “refocus on the work itself” advice actually works pretty well.

  10. My take on this is that Imposter syndrome is party due to low self worth. We’re told not to think too highly of ourselves, so we sometimes get it into our heads that we don’t deserve the successes we have. It’s partly shame, and the fear of others finding out that we really don’t know what we’re doing.

    The other thing is that the work we get rewarded for can be easy. After years of hard work experts can get the job done and make it seem effortless. But the effortlessness can sometimes make it hard to ask for money.
    So we feel we don’t deserve the reward. We forget all the hard work and time it took to get this good.

  11. Carolina says:

    I read it, twice (in the book already) and I had the ‘aha’ moment, twice. I’d probably could tell other people how to deal with it now, but my self? No chance.
    I miss something.
    I read the Renaissance Business and the How To Be Everything, I always get stuck at the same point, the actual business idea(s).
    Then I tell my self I am not ready yet and maybe I just wait for another enlightment. A few weeks later I start again.
    So here I am with at least three master lists of interests and the will (and need) to finally start something (and finance my awesomeness) but arrghrgh!
    It’s not that I think I am not good enough in something, I feel like I do not have something! Sure, I have interests and passions but how do you make a business out of this?
    The Renaissance Business goes from interests to overaching theme – but wait! Just because I love something doesn’t mean I DO something with it (and certainly not in a business way).
    If I wanted to launch a website about my passions, it wouldn’t be for anyone but me. Because it has no mission – so how do you ectract the mission out of your interests?
    To admit, if someone askes me what my skills are I probably remain silent, imposter syndrome and low self worth here we are.
    It feels incredibly difficult to overcome this while having the need to become indepedent and the true multipotentialite I am.

    Thank you Emilie for everything, I am still and of course a big fan of your books, they give me something to hold on to :)

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Carolina,

      I would highly recommend brainstorming with a friend or a small group of friends. It sounds like you’re having trouble getting out of your own head and seeing how you might be of service to others. What do people come to you for advice about? What is it that pulls you toward your interests and drives you? What’s your Why? (or your multiple Whys?) Who do you want to help in this world? What impact would you like to have? Those are the sorts of questions I think it would be helpful to discuss with a supportive friend.

  12. Joe says:

    Imposter syndrome seems to be the result of the more we learn, the less we know. we spent our time trying to put as much knowledge as we can into use but forget that we can never know all because the dynamics of this world are forever changing. Admitting that we are an imperfect form of what we want to become is how we over come this feeling.

  13. Riccardo Bua says:

    The main issue is that someone has to start somewhere, so rather than worry wherever you’re ready, people should be worried how to get by and learn fast. Being concerned of not being yet there will never help you cross the line :-)

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