Stop Labeling Yourself an Imposter

Ever since the 1978 study by Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, creatives (and many others) have been labeling themselves as having “imposter phenomenon” or “imposter syndrome.” I even blogged about it. Caught up in the relief of “someone understands,” I embraced the label. But I now understand how damaging the label is and I urge you to stop labeling yourself an imposter. 

cartoon-style image of a wolf in sheep's clothing approaching a sheep symbolic of why you should stop labeling yourself an imposter

What is Imposter Syndrome?

According to Merriam-Webster, imposter syndrome is “a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.”

Many, many celebrities have confessed to having imposter syndrome.

What is Wrong with the Label?

What image or thought comes to mind when you think about the word imposter? A wolf in sheep’s clothing? Cases where fraudulent identities were used to swindle someone?

The word imposter puts the blame on you. It says you are not genuine. You are defective, an imposter, a fraud. Even the “confession” of having imposter syndrome implies it’s something wrong, even criminal.

There is no room in that label for normal doubt or for historical, cultural, familial, or systemic context. 

At worst, the label implies you are pathological, a criminal. It says you are flawed and need to be fixed. The label says it’s wrong to be unsure, to doubt your abilities, to feel uncomfortable.

It doesn’t acknowledge that microaggressions and discrimination against gender and race, the lack of role models, and the lack of validation play a huge role in destroying your self-confidence.

What is Self-Doubt?

Photo of a woman in black sitting crosslegged on a red sofa against a red background with a neon sign above her head that reads "feelings." Self-doubt is a normal feeling so stop labeling yourself an imposter

Self-doubt is

a lack of faith in oneself a feeling of doubt or uncertainty about one’s abilities, actions, etc.

Merriam-Webster

How does the phrase, “lack of faith in oneself” make you feel? I’ll bet it doesn’t make you feel like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Doubt or uncertainty about one’s abilities, actions, etc. is an uncomfortable feeling. It can be extremely uncomfortable. No wonder we want to label it somehow.

Self-Doubt is Normal

Being anxious about a new skill or new situation is normal. Second guessing and mild discomfort are normal. Being the “new kid on the block” is stressful. And it’s okay to feel that stress.

Confidence doesn’t equal competence.

Think about it. You tell yourself you are not competent because you have little or no confidence. Let me say it again: confidence doesn’t equal competence. 

Traditionally in the business world, a novice gets a job and a mentor, a professional who is competent and confident. The novice is anxious and doubts his abilities, but he gets guidance and education from the mentor. The mentor models that anxiety is normal and is competent despite that discomfort. As the novice’s skills build, the mentor validates his abilities. Over time, the novice grows more and more competent and is further validated by the mentor and peers. The novice’s anxiety and doubts recede. They don’t disappear, but he has accepted that he is now competent has confidence in his learned skills.

 As a creative, you probably did not get that. If you are self-taught, you definitely did not get that mentoring and modeling. 

If you don’t have a mentor, be your own mentor. You’ve taught yourself a skill. Give yourself credit!! Not everyone can be self-taught. You have done it your own way. No one else can do what you can. Good job!

Why Self-Doubt is a Good Sign

If self-doubt plagues you, it could mean you’re taking risks. You’ve stepped out of your comfort zone. And that is a good thing. Congratulations. You are growing and trying something new. 

You failed once (or more than once), so you are doubting yourself and your ability to do this thing you’re attempting. Congratulate yourself. We humans learn by trying and failing. Remember Edison and keep going. Self-doubt is just one step along the way to success.

It keeps you humble. Without self-doubt, you would become arrogant, overconfident, and reckless. Those feelings would lead to failure. And a pretty unlikeable personality. Embrace your self-doubt. It helps you keep things in perspective. Acknowledge your competence, even your excellence, but stay humble. Know that excellence is fleeting. Keep striving to learn more, to step outside your comfort zone.

Stop Labeling Yourself an Imposter

Image of the saying "you can do it" on white paper, with a white framed on a white background with white flowers in a silver pot beside it. Stop labeling yourself an imposter, you can do it.

Take the word imposter out of your vocabulary. Learn to recognize self-doubt and call it what it is. Normal.

Change your self-talk. Don’t accept other people’s labels. Make a realistic assessment of yourself and your abilities. Be your own best mentor. 

Having difficulty getting past the self-doubt? There are suggestions on how to do that all over the internet, including in my post, “Are You Saying No to Success?”

More On This Topic

The Harvard Business Review article, “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome”, focuses on women in business jobs but is a thorough and important discussion.

Rich Karlgaard has written a helpful article called “Self-Doubt can Help You Bloom…

Still concerned that your anxiety is bad or out-of-control? Learn about the difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder. If you feel anxious in every situation and overwhelmed all the time, please seek professional help. 

Stop labeling yourself an imposter today. Tell us why you are not an imposter below.

Image Credits

First Image by pangloy from Pixabay

Second Photo by Brock Wegner on Unsplash

Final Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

4 comments

  1. I talked to my daughter – also a creative – about this today. I work so hard to instill confidence in my children and my students, but I hadn’t thought about what I should be doing to build my own confidence. As you say, it is too easy to just dismiss the feelings of inferiority as “imposter syndrome” and then not to take the steps necessary to build confidence!

    Additionally, I was raised in an environment where inappropriate confidence was modelled, so that I tend to associate confidence with boastfulness, something I see as to be avoided at all costs.

    Your post helped me see the difference and that confidence is something I need to build in myself. Thank you for this!

    1. I am so glad you found this post helpful, Lisa. I can relate to seeing confidence as boastfulness. It’s something many women have been taught or modeled. I really appreciate your sharing your experiences. Thank you.

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