“The Imposter Syndrome”; Why do so many of us suffer with self-confidence at work?

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“Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to see their own accomplishments, dismissing them as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

With studies showing that over 70% of us suffer from imposter syndrome, it’s about time more of us start talking about why it is we think we’re just not good enough. A phenomenon based not upon our own achievements but upon comparisons to others, imposter syndrome has been recognised by acclaimed successes, from Emma Watson to Maya Angelou, with the latter stating, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find [me] out now”.

It’s no surprise that these examples are women either, as research shows women are much more likely to suffer. In fact, a survey of British managers, conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management, found that when asked about how confident they feel in their professions, over ½ of female respondents reported self-doubt, compared with less than a 1/3 of men.

David Dunning, a Cornell Psychologist states that he found this fact within his class, with the male students responding “wow, this is a tough class”, when on the contrary their female classmates were thinking “I’m not good enough.”

This isn’t due to a lack of talent either, as tech entrepreneur and founder of Hearsay Social, Clara Shih has reported feeling like an ‘imposter’ on her Stanford University Course, despite graduating with the highest GPA of any Computer-Science major in her class.

Similarly, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, told Atlantic Magazine the year before her book was published, that “there are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am”.

With feeling imposter syndrome being linked to a lack of confidence in pursuing higher opportunities, there are businesses attempting to counteract the phenomenon. Eradicating it completely however is proving tricky, with mentor systems designed to help, actually hindering some. In fact Science Careers Magazine, reported about the fact in 2013, stating, “one [of our participants] said she suspected her mentor was secretly superwoman. How could she ever live up to that?”

Despite the fact that imposter syndrome is linked with a feeling of inferiority, the syndrome, coined in the 1970’s, has constantly been the domain of the high-achiever. With the main reasoning behind the feeling being the four C’s; chance, charm, connections and cheating, people with high-levels of intelligence feel they have somehow tricked those around them into believing they are better than they are.

However a principle, coined the Dunner-Kruger effect in 1999, tells a different story. Summed up by Bertrand Russell’s quote, “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cock-sure and the intelligent are full of doubt”, the effect theorises that those whose confidence is unwavering, are often the least worthy of their self-assurance, with the vice-versa also being true.

Meaning worrying you’re not worthy, could actually mean you’re smarter than you think.