How to Slay Imposter Syndrome

Discover why 70 per cent of all people report persistent feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt

By Deb Cummings

Ever walk into a room of impeccably dressed professionals and feel like a fraud? All of a sudden, your perfect suit of an hour ago feels cheap and itchy? And you are certain that your neatly coiffed hair is moving around your head independently?

You, dear reader, may be suffering from Imposter Syndrome.

 

Although psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes first coined the term back in 1978, describing it as, “internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement,” it’s very much a thing today.

Which is precisely why Derek Luk, BN’07, spoke about this very topic to a sold-out crowd of alumni at last week’s Dig In! breakfast series.

Anyone who’s been behind a startup, like Luk — a recent Avenue Magazine Top 40 Under 40 recipient who was selected for his award-winning social enterprise, Mimentra — knows that sinking feeling where you believe you’re a fraud, whether it’s in your industry, role or position. Luk felt exactly that when he was invited to a breakfast meeting of CEOs.

“They were all established oil and gas executives,” recalls Luk, who was immediately filled with self-doubt and wondered what possibly he could add to the conversation. “But I went anyway and we wound up having a very interesting conversation about values and the importance of community and why so many people are lonely in this culture and feel disconnected — topics that I really care about.”

Why does research suggest that Imposter Syndrome affects 70 per cent of us, regardless of age, gender or profession?

“It can face anyone at any time,” explains Luk, who was named Nursing Educator of the Year from the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta in 2018. “But it’s more prevalent when you’re undergoing some transition in your life. Those moments are ‘growth’ moments, but they can also be filled with self-doubt as you examine your skill set.”

Of course, at various stages of our lives, we’ve all embraced the notion of, “I will fake it ’til I make it,” but it’s when that altered state is perpetual that problems arise.

Derek Luk

Derek Luk, BN’07

“Anything with a benefit usually comes with risk,” explains Luk. “But, if it isn’t actually causing harm, you’re likely OK. If your external environment, however, is a constant threat or it perpetuates the need for people to constantly be something they are not, then you’ll be trapped in a place where you can’t move forward. Or learn. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.”

Why does research suggest that Imposter Syndrome affects 70 per cent of us, regardless of age, gender or profession?

“It can face anyone at any time,” explains Luk, who was named Nursing Educator of the Year from the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta in 2018. “But it’s more prevalent when you’re undergoing some transition in your life. Those moments are ‘growth’ moments, but they can also be filled with self-doubt as you examine your skill set.”

Of course, at various stages of our lives, we’ve all embraced the notion of, “I will fake it ’til I make it,” but it’s when that altered state is perpetual that problems arise.

“Anything with a benefit usually comes with risk,” explains Luk. “But, if it isn’t actually causing harm, you’re likely OK. If your external environment, however, is a constant threat or it perpetuates the need for people to constantly be something they are not, then you’ll be trapped in a place where you can’t move forward. Or learn. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.”

At Dig In!, Luk suggested a few “imposter-slaying” tactics:

Affinity

Join an affinity group.

Find your tribe. Call it what you will, but don’t struggle alone. Find people or a network that are similar to you, based on gender, work, interests — people you can talk to about your insecurities. Or, you can use LinkedIn or Facebook to create a group of people dealing with the same issue. Many workplaces offer their own affinity groups, including UCalgary Alumni.

Find out more

compare

Stop comparing yourself.

The tension that comes with always asking yourself “where you are” and “where you should be” contributes to a “restrictive mindset,” says Luk. Levels of stress and depression can skyrocket when people compare their lifestyle with what they see on Instagram. “Ask yourself, ‘How much editing goes into the lifestyle you’re looking at?’” suggests Luk. “What on social media is fact or fiction?” Perhaps, your lifestyle isn’t so bad? Here’s a tip: Try tallying the number of times per day you compare yourself to someone else. This can be your first step in stemming unproductive self-criticism.

Growth

Embrace a “growth” mindset.

If you believe that people won’t like you for who you are and have actually created a façade, you have a restrictive mindset and are fearful of growth. Self-doubt is your strongest hindrance. What you want is a “growth” mindset. A growth mindset says, “I don’t know everything, but I am accumulating knowledge and experiences all the time so I can move forward,” explains Luk. That’s what you want to embrace.

Mentor

Find a mentor.

Professional anchors are always beneficial. In wrestling with Imposter Syndrome, a mentor can encourage you to hone your own unique skills and perspectives. UCalgary Alumni is launching a new program dubbed MentorLink in the spring. Watch for details in your Inbox.

Document

Document your accomplishments.

Some experts say you can crack Imposter Syndrome by keeping an ongoing list or diary of the positive feedback you receive. This act can be doubly useful at annual-review time, or when trying to negotiate a raise.

Quiet

Try quieting your mind through mindfulness meditation.

“That’s why people go on silent retreats,” explains Luk. “Clarity and focus comes from a quiet mind.” He recommends checking out Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman — a book and program that Luk used when teaching UCalgary students how to meditate.