I’m Not the Worst: Imposter Syndrome Undone

So you identify with the description of Impostor Syndrome in the previous blog entry, and you really want to feel like you deserve your place in the world. How do you get past feeling like a fake, “just lucky,” or excessively self-critical? Read on for three tips to learning to believe in yourself!

1. Get to know your self-critical parts

That voice in your head that tells you you’re a fake, that you didn’t earn the success you’ve enjoyed, or that your luck is going to run out at any moment is a constant in your ear. You probably don’t like it much of the time. But—and I’m gonna blow your mind a little here—did you know that voice is actually trying to help you? That self-critical part doesn’t hate you, even though it may feel that way sometimes. That part of you is hard on you for a reason, and you might be surprised at what you find if you spend some time getting to know your self-critical parts.

So how might a critical part be trying to help? Perhaps you were taught that while you are an intelligent, gifted person, it’s rude to brag about yourself. So your self-critical parts think it’s better for you to downplay your talents rather than risk being too proud of yourself and being corrected, scolded, or told your head is too big. Even if no one ever said those things, your critical parts might fear being too pleased with yourself may make someone else feel bad about themselves and push you to downsize yourself for someone else’s sake.

Photo by Sydney Zentz

On the flip side, if you’ve been told all your life that you’re super smart, talented, and generally awesome, you may feel pressure to live up to unlivable expectations. In their zeal to help you develop strong self-esteem, parents and teachers can sometime have the opposite of their intended effect. Being above-average all the time can make you feel like you always have to be above-average. In this case, self-critical parts may push you to keep working hard and not take your success for granted, because they don’t want you to fail and risk losing the love and approval of your friends and family.

So if your self-critical parts don’t actually hate you, and do want you to do well in your life, how do you get them to chill out? Start by finding a little room in your heart to appreciate the positive intentions behind your self-critical parts. Can you appreciate that these parts of you want the best for you, and that they believe pushing you will achieve that end? Developing a softer, more compassionate relationship with your self-critical parts can be a good way to start letting them know they don’t have to work so hard to help you succeed.

2. Give yourself permission to not succeed sometimes

Everyone fails sometimes. Literally—EVERYONE fails sometimes. Why should you expect yourself to do something no one else in the history of everything has ever done? The smartest, most talented, most successful people in the world have failed, fallen short, and missed the mark. No one is “on” all the time. Cut yourself some slack and remember that failing at a task does not make you a failure as a person. Let your self-critical parts know that it’s ok to mess up, to get a B instead of an A, and to try your hardest and still fail. We learn more from failing than from succeeding all the time.

3. Take pride in what you have accomplished

There will be a certain amount that you accomplish based on talent, innate skills, luck, and intuitively grasping concepts. That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve recognition for being good at something! It also doesn’t mean you won’t have to work hard at some things. Some things will come easily to you, and there will be times where you work really hard at something and don’t succeed (see above). Success and accomplishments are not an either/or scenario. You can feel proud of yourself for that 4.0 GPA and acknowledge that you have to study your butt off to keep your grades up in a subject that’s difficult for you. You can also be pleased with yourself for earning a 3.5 that comes to you easily.

Photo by Marivi Pazos

It’s easy to believe that you must not really be that smart when you bump up against the natural ceiling of where your innate ease of understanding ends and your need to work hard begins—especially if things come easily to you for a long time. Having to work for things that have come easily before can be a blow to the self-confidence. But it doesn’t mean you’ve been faking it. It just means you’ve found the place where inherent talent and hard work meet. Be proud of what you’ve done, whether it came easily or you had to bust your butt to attain it. It’s still your accomplishment either way.

A lot of people—very successful, smart, widely admired people—struggle with Impostor Syndrome. You’re not alone in feeling this way, and using the above tips can help you feel differently. You don’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile, and being self-compassionate can go a long way toward changing how you see yourself!


Main post photo by Evan Kirby