How I learned to let go of impostor syndrome and trust my talent
Shortness of breath. Racing thoughts. Sweaty palms. Even though I’m a successful young professional (yay, millennials!), I still experience a bit of impostor syndrome. Every time I’m asked to lend my expertise to a panel or Twitter chat, I panic:
Me? You want ME? I’m not qualified to do this. Everyone’s going to know I’m a fraud. And the list goes on.
But I’m not the only one. According to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70 percent of millennials suffer from impostor syndrome. The term “impostor syndrome” was first coined in the late 1970s by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes as “the phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” Yup, sounds about right.
And apparently, millennials are more likely to suffer from impostor syndrome than previous generations because of all the social media comparison out there — or as I like to call it, Facebook envy.
Nowadays, it’s not just enough to be “good” at your job — you need to be the Beyoncé of whatever it is you do. And, if you’re not, well…why bother?
It’s so easy to talk ourselves out of something (launching that blog, writing that book, starting that business) because we’ll never do it as well as so-and-so.
We’ll never have a million followers on Instagram, we’ll never land that interview, or we’ll never get that best-seller.
Speaking of best-sellers, I was surprised to learn that Maya Angelou — one of the greatest poets and writers of ALL TIME — also suffered from impostor syndrome.
She once said, “I have written eleven books, but each time, I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.
Turns out actress and activist Emma Watson felt the same way before giving a keynote speech at the United Nations in New York. And actress Margot Robbie dealt with it after the blockbuster Wolf of Wall Street. What the what?!
On paper, my accolades and accomplishments are about a mile long. But when it comes time to own it, I tend to freak out.
During one such meltdown before a panel, my husband gave me a much-needed pep talk. He told me to focus on my answers instead of trying to find the “right” answers. I was so focused on saying the right thing and being “tweetable” that I hadn’t given much thought to my own story — or as Oprah would say, what I know to be true. If I weren’t qualified to be here, the organizers wouldn’t have asked me to come in the first place. That has to count for something.
Instead of comparing my achievements to everyone else’s, I reminded myself that I bring a different perspective to the table — and I deserve to be there as much as everyone else. And instead of trying to be “the best,” I focus on being my personal best — because perfection is unattainable and, let’s be real, overrated.
The truth is, there will always be someone smarter than me, more successful than me, and more popular than me. But that doesn’t diminish my value. It’s not that my impostor syndrome has disappeared, but rather, I’ve learned to embrace it.
I’m able to recognize it at the onset, and I’ve gotten better at saying, “No, you’re not welcome here.”
But most importantly, I’ve learned this valuable lesson: Trust yourself. Trust your dopeness. The rest will fall into place.