In the 1970s, when Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes conducted the first studies on Imposter Syndrome, the research-driven idea that high-achieving people could feel like frauds was new, but the feeling was age-old and therefore the advice from the philosophers of the past was timeless. But in the 21st century, we also have access to advice that deals specifically with Imposter Syndrome in the context of modern living and is grounded in the lived experience of identified Imposter Syndrome, and is therefore more relatable. Let’s look at some of this advice here.
“Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.”
- Amy Cuddy
The line “Fake it till you make it”, is often bandied around, but research psychologist, Harvard Business School professor, author, Ted Talk speaker, and former victim of Imposter Syndrome, Amy Cuddy, reveals that faking it can actually help you overcome your self-doubt. She points out that Imposterism leaves us anxious and worried about other people’s judgments of us. This often robs us of our self-confidence and composure needed during key meetings and important presentations and makes us underperform at critical moments. There could be a ray of light at such moments, though.
Amy Cuddy’s research has found that taking two minutes before a key meeting or interview to retire to the privacy of a restroom and practicing a power pose – a stance that allows you to spread your limbs imposingly and exude confidence – can help you go into a room with presence. In other words, faking confidence prior to the meeting actually improved confidence during the meeting. And she recommends doing this and working on your confidence in various situations till it translates to actual self-belief that accompanies you constantly.
“Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did.”
- Neil Gaiman
This is a tale of two Neils.
Neil Gaiman, celebrated writer of children’s books, fiction for adults, the comic series The Sandman, and several screenplays and scripts, shared an anecdote: He was invited to a gathering of illustrious people – artists, writers, scientists, and discoverers, and his Imposter Syndrome was kicking in, making him feel that he didn’t qualify to be there.
One evening there, he started bonding with an elderly gentleman over their shared first name, among other things. And later, to Neil Gaiman’s surprise, the second Neil looked at the gathering and said “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
Neil Gaiman’s point is, and we would probably concur, that if Neil Armstrong were to feel this way after being the first man on the moon, then most of us must be experiencing Imposter Syndrome in some form or the other. A shared sense that we are all “Just faking it”, can quell our anxieties, give rise to compassion, and help us treat ourselves less critically.
“Humility and self-flagellation are indeed two sides of the same coin.”
- Gesshin Greenwood
As a young, female, Zen teacher who learned in Japan and now teaches in the US, Gesshin Greenwood had to battle Imposter Syndrome, while also finding a way to practice healthy humility. This led her to examine the twin presence of humility and self-flagellation in people’s lives. This advice is meant to kick in when your inner critic comes to play and casts the shadow of self-doubt.
For instance, whenever Gesshin indulged her dream of becoming a successful writer, an inner voice would criticize it by asking “Who do you think you are?”
By removing the critical tone out of the voice and reasking “Who do you think you are?” from a position of genuine curiosity, the question “Who do you think you are?” becomes an exploration of the self and an extension to other questions like “What are your values? How do you want to contribute to the world?”
Her practice of humility and curiosity is inspired by, among other things, Japanese Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki’s advice to practice the Beginner’s Mind, an open and compassionate mind which enables infinite possibilities.
What are your own observations or tips to break free of Imposter Syndrome and embrace your achievements, your goals, and the infinite possibilities around you? Share it with your team and others around you; it can help everyone approach their career with more self-belief and confidence.