It's a feeling so many of us know all too well: a coworker or loved one praises us for our achievements, and we think, "Oh no! Soon they'll find out I am only great because of luck! They're just too blind to see who I really am...a fraud!"
This mental self-sabotage is called the impostor syndrome, and it's an incredibly common phenomenon among high-achieving women. Recently, I was accepted into a prestigious summer writing conference. Upon opening my acceptance email, I immediately said to myself, "Everyone else there will be a REAL writer, and they'll soon find out I'm an unsophisticated half-artist in comparison." What a terrible thought, right? When I think about it rationally, I have every qualification to have been accepted to the program. And yet, the impostor thoughts still come slinking back into my consciousness, eating away at my self-confidence and causing me to actually fear the very things that make me a high-achiever.
So why is impostorism so prevalent among women and high-achieving women in particular? According to an article in Slate Magazine, one theory maintains that due to social norms, women have learned to apologize for their abilities and their achievements in order to be liked, not because they actually believe that they are lesser than they are. However, over years of apologizing, women cause psychological damage to themselves and begin to actually believe their own self-deprecative remarks. Other researchers of impostorism have discovered that it is greatly elevated in populations of women who are highly competent. One theory maintains that the self-doubt caused by impostorism actually pushes these women to work harder, thereby causing them to become more and more competent in spite of their lack of belief in their own abilities.
So what do we do? First, don't feel bad about feeling like an impostor. It probably means you're really a high-achieving, highly competent woman! After that, I think it might be all about taking risks. For me, the self-doubt isn't the scary part. The scary part is the fear I have of trying things that might get me "found out!" After all, wasting my potential seems a whole lot worse than just toughing out a little self-doubt.