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 

Battle Your Self-Doubt with 15 Inspirational Quotes

Many creatives, like you, have complicated lives. You work a job, an uncreative one. You have friends and a family. Add a second job, or a holiday, or any of life’s joys and ills…. and you have stress and overwhelm. That’s when Mrs. Darkside whispers negativity in your ear. Battle your self-doubt with these tips and 15 inspirational quotes.

Image is a swirl of rainbow colors with the words Free Your Creativity from Self-Doubt across it

Who Is Mrs. Darkside

Mrs. Darkside is the name I’ve given my inner negative voice. You know, the voice that says you can’t do this. The voice that calls you an imposter or not good enough. The voice that you need to name and combat. 

Give your inner negative voice a name. Names have power, so choose one wisely. Choose a name that exposes the lies of self-doubt. 

Learn to recognize the voice of doubt and call her out on it.

Arm Yourself With Inspiration

A little more than a third of the posts on this blog inspirational and motivational. Why? Because as a creative, one of your worst enemies is your own self-doubt. 

Keep a battle kit in your workspace. It can be a journal, a photo album, a recording, even a digital file. In this kit, keep inspirational and motivational quotes, images, and articles. The ones that speak to you on a deep and personal level. 

When Mrs. Darkside comes to visit next time, whip that battle kit out. See which of your tools helps you battle your self-doubt the most and double down on that type of inspiration. Be victorious. Be the best creative you can be.

Change the World

In this image a violin wrapped with tiny white christmas lights lies on a dark brown surface. Self-doubt is like the dark spaces between the lights.

Everybody has a creative potential and from the moment you can express this creative potential, you can start changing the world.

Paulo Coelho

Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something about it who makes a difference.

Nolan Bushnell 

An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.

Edward DeBono

You Are Enough

There is no such thing as a new idea. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.

Mark Twain

You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are.

Anna Quindlen

Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use–do the work you want to see done.

Austin Kleon

Creative thinking–in terms of idea creativity–is not a mystical talent. It is a skill that can be practiced and nurtured.

Edward de Bono

The creative person is willing to live with ambiguity. He doesn’t need problems solved immediately and can afford to wait for the right ideas.

Abe Tannenbaum

Choose to Be Alive

Image of a vibrant red and yellow tulip spraying dots of red and yellow color. Choose to be alive and understand that self-doubt is part of the process and nothing more.

But unless we are creators, we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.

Madeleine L’Engle

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.

Mary Lou Cook

The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.

Neil Gaiman

Be Creative

image is of white knitting needles with cast on stitches in green yarn and a length of knit-pearl stitches resting on a skien of green yarn that rests on a wooden table top. Self-doubt hasn't stopped the knitter.

There’s room for everybody on the planet to be creative and conscious if you are your own person. If you’re trying to be like somebody else, then there isn’t.

Tori Amos

Creativity is the quality that you bring to the activity that you are doing. It is an attitude, an inner approach–how you look at things… Whatsoever you do, if you do it joyfully, if you do it lovingly, if your act of doing is not purely economical, then it is creative.

Osho

Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.

Rita Mae Brown

There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.

Edward de Bono

Need More Tools?

Search for quotes on this blog. You’ll find hundreds. Or visit the mental health toolkit post. Perhaps you need to remember you and your creativity don’t need to be perfect.

Whatever you do, whichever tools you use to battle your self-doubt, be the best creative you. You and the world will be better for it.


Image Credits

Swirl of Color  Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Violin Image by Tharindu Nanayakkara from Pixabay 

Tulip Image by 165106 from Pixabay 

Knitting Image by Sophie Janotta from Pixabay 

Are You Saying No to Success?

 Do you tell yourself that you are not successful, or that the success you've had doesn't count because it's not real?Are you saying no to success? You are also showing signs of the Imposter Syndrome.Are you among the many people who are stuck because they don’t believe in their own accomplishments? Do you feel that you will be ‘caught’ when someone realizes you really don’t know what you are doing? Do you tell yourself that you are not successful, or that the success you’ve had doesn’t count because it’s not real? Are you saying no to success? You are also showing signs of the Imposter Syndrome.


Definition

According to Wikipedia, the Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. It is not an officially recognized psychological disorder and is not among the conditions described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it has been the subject of numerous books and articles by psychologists and educators. The term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978.

There was a time when it was felt that more women suffered from the Imposter Syndrome than men. Unfortunately, time has shown that no one is immune to these feelings.  It happens to the writer, to professionals, to politicians, to tradesmen, and to housewives.

Remember when Sally Fields accepted the Oscar with a statement along the lines of, “You like me. You really, really like me! ” Yup. That’s a sign of that Imposter Syndrome. Aw, you say, she’s an actress, she doesn’t count. So how about Albert Einstein who said, “The secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. ” Or Woodrow Wilson when he said, “I use not only all the brains I have but all that I can borrow. ”

What’s that I see? Are nodding your head? Are you an imposter? So am I. There are many of us who often feel that we don’t deserve the praise we receive. Like these highly successful people quoted above, we feel like a fake, despite our successes.

Where does it come from?

Perhaps you came from a home where your caregivers were hyper-critical. You know, the ones who looked at your grade card with four As and a B and focused on the B instead of congratulating your for a job well done. Or, you could have developed impossibly high standards, as in, if it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough. Then there’s luck. Sometimes luck seems to play a strong role in our lives. “I was just in the right place, at the right time.” And if it’s luck, then it can’t be because you worked hard to be in the right place at the right time, that you deserve it, can it?

We are certainly surrounded by things that are fake: false eyelashes, fake trees, fake grass, and more. There are fakes who are found out: a plagiarist, a doctored image, falsified documents, etc. Some of these have legal consequences. We sure don’t want to be in that group! So we hide our fears. And because we hide them from others, we often hide them from ourselves as well.

Signs of Imposter Thinking

What are signs you might be limiting yourself with imposter thinking?

  • You diminish your accomplishments by saying something like ‘it wasn’t that big of a deal.’
  • You quit your job soon after a promotion that you felt you didn’t deserve.
  • You procrastinate on things to be done. If it isn’t done, then you can’t be ‘found out.’
  • Insomnia and migraines have been called symptoms of imposter syndrome as well. (Though please, if you are having physical symptoms such as insomnia or migraines, seek medical attention to rule out other causes for those symptoms.)
  • Finally, in extreme cases, there are some who take refuge in more destructive behaviors like addiction to alcohol or drugs.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

First, learn more about it from reliable sources like Psychology Today’s The Imposter Syndrome and I Hope Nobody Finds Out. And this one by Judith Beck on Huffington Post, The Imposter Syndrome

The next step is to name it. Recognize your ‘imposter’ behaviors and thinking.

Then begin replacing those scripts you’ve played over and over in your head. Realize that you don’t have to be perfect to be successful. Take in those compliments. Stop the ‘yes, but’ parade. Replace it with a positive statement, “Even though she sold more books than I, I still sold a lot of books.” Focus on your strengths. When you finish a task, look at the strengths you used to bring this project to completion. And know that this isn’t a one-and-done type of thing. You’ll have to practice these new scripts many times.

You’ll find more tips on how to change your thinking in this gallery on How to Break Free from the Imposter Syndrome on Forbes.

 

Being an Imposter

Hello, my name is Lynette and I’m an imposter. Yes, I’ve felt like a fake most of my life. I tend to self-sabotage. It’s been a longtime habit that I’ve struggled to overcome. I thought I’d done pretty well, until recently when I realized I would not make my writing goals — again.

Then I realized, reaching my writing goals means that I’d have to put my work out there for someone else to read. Scary stuff. Someone might read it and not like it. I know the cure for this one: do not care what someone else thinks. That’s hard for me. I want so badly to be liked.

Whew. That paragraph was hard to write. And because it’s so hard, I’m going to leave it in. I’m not leaving it in as a plea for you to comment and say you like me. I’m leaving it in because it was hard for me. That need, that fear that I won’t be liked because I’m just not good enough, is an eternal struggle for me. Feeling that way is a reminder for me to take off the fear glasses I sometimes use to look at myself and my accomplishments. When I take off the fear glasses and put on the fact glasses to examine what I’ve done, I know I am good enough. You can know it, too. Take off your fear glasses. Face the Imposter Syndrome head-on.

Are there areas of your life where you feel like an imposter? Are you saying no to success? How do you combat it? I am so glad you’re here. Thank you for stopping by. And if you take the extra time to post a thoughtful comment, I thank you even more deeply.