Hi, I'm a fraud and I do not belong here: Confessions of an impostor

Oh, so you’re a fraud at work? Me too. Any day now someone is going to realise you’re wildly out of your depth? Yep, been there as well! But could it be that the ambition-sapping phenomena, commonly referred to as impostor syndrome, is actually the self-checking gauge that delivers excellence? A fellow sufferer weighs in on how to overcome self-doubt…
Hi, I'm a fraud and I do not belong here: Confessions of an impostor
Illustration by @HumearaIllustrates

It was mid-October 2019 when I found out I got the job as editor in chief of Cosmopolitan Middle East. My start date wasn’t till the first week of January, so I spent two and a half months (which is about seven years in impostor syndrome time) wondering when someone was going to finally realise they’d hired the wrong person. 

Well, they didn’t. Fast-forward to one month after my start date and I was set to visit Cosmo HQ in New York to meet the international team. Right, I thought to myself, this is definitely where I get found out and unmasked as the fraud I really am; as soon as I open my mouth someone is going to realise they’ve made a huge mistake.

Well, both dates have come and gone and somehow–somehow–I’m still in this job. But that doesn’t mean that not a day goes by where I’ve second guessed myself and my abilities. I yearned to be unburdened from the anxieties of caring and to revel in the magnetism of a breezy attitude.

The silver lining? Turns out, I’m not alone. It’s a phenomenon that blights even the highest of achievers, and it’s called impostor syndrome.

“70 per cent of people will experience at least one episode of impostor syndrome in their lifetime,” says Dr. Tara Wyne, clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia. “At its heart, impostor syndrome is a pattern of thinking and feeling and behavior where people doubt their intellectual competency or their ability to do their job or perform a role. They live in fear of being caught out and exposed.”

“There is often a feeling of inadequacy and sense that they will always come up short. The belief is that eventually others will realise that they are not as competent or accomplished as they appear. It’s catastrophic and fatalistic thinking. It makes you constantly fear exposure and humiliation.”

Sometimes I would convince myself it’s not such a bad thing (I mean, I’d take selfdoubt over egocentrism any day), but I’m also a big believer in clapping for yourself, and it was time to start practicing what I preached. It was time to stop convincing myself that everyone else around me is smarter, more capable, more mature and more worthy of their success.

I’m hardly the first person to write about this, mind. Michelle Obama, Lupita Nyong’o, Natalie Portman and Meryl Streep have all spoken out about imposter syndrome. “You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie?’ And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?” Meryl once said. A sentiment we both share–except I have less Oscars.

And nor is this feeling of inadequacy limited to women. “It used to be more prevalently associated with high achieving women, but the understanding is now that it affects women and men quite equally,” say Dr. Tara. “There is no one clear causal factor to explain why people suffer from imposter syndrome. Early life factors such as high conditionality, severe criticism and every action being measured and evaluated can infl uence the development of the syndrome. Low self-worth and a relationship with yourself that is highly critical may also predispose us to impostor syndrome.”

“Sufferers may avoid people and situations that invite close scrutiny, take less chances and are risk-averse because they don’t want to fail and be exposed,” Dr. Tara explains about the symptons of imposter syndrome. “They are often perfectionists and over-work to prepare to avoid being exposed. People with impostor syndrome always misattribute their real accomplishments to a fluke, good timing, good luck or believing others aren’t looking closely or good judges.”

No one is immune to self-doubt. But when it takes over, it takes over. Nevertheless, I am prepared to move forward, recognising my accomplishments and properly valuing myself. My plan is nothing fancy or complicated, and if you feel like you’ve experienced any of the above then please, pull up a proverbial seat and join me!

First and foremost, I need to get out of my own head. I’ve started trying to identify and dissect the logic behind a lot of my thinking. Like, perhaps the real reason I don’t feel as intelligent or accomplished as the people I look to is because they’ve, quite plainly, been in the game longer than I have. I mean, of course, they are going to know more than me. It’s simple maths, really. (Really? Is it? I’m probably wrong, as per usual, but whatevs...)

I’ve also found that picking a handful of mentors, whose opinion truly matter and mean something, and taking on board their praise, has been monumentally handy in my Herculean task to overcome impostor syndrome. If someone you admire has said you’ve done something right, maybe you’ve, like, done something right?

And lastly, remind yourself that no one and nothing is perfect. Sometimes I look at people who I deem as ‘doing it perfectly’, and even they’re not totally happy with what they’ve achieved. The way I see it, you can either stay on the hamster wheel, constantly seeking perfection, or you can get off and self-appraise every now and then.

It’s also good to remember that you can’t grow in your comfort zone, so feeling challenged can sometimes be beneficial and lead you to upskill. Impostor syndrome is that double-edged sword in that it wants answers but is too scared to ask them for fear of looking stupid. Tell yourself it’s not doubt or lack of knowledge that wants answers, but curiosity and a hunger to learn.

Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in a day, and these habits won’t vanish overnight, but I hope, like me, you begin ridding yourself of the troublesome trope that is imposter syndrome, and the stifling symptoms that accompany it.