If Viola Davis has it, then we’re all doomed. Or maybe, we’re all in good company and can figure out a way to overcome it.
Moments after picking up an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in “Fences” and delivering a spellbinding acceptance speech, Davis told “Good Morning America,” that she felt like an impostor often but talked herself out of it.
“It feels like my hard work has paid off but at the same time I still have the impostor, you know, syndrome,” Davis said in an interview with ABC News after her big win. “I still feel like I’m going to wake up and everybody’s going to see me for the hack I am,” ABC reported.
But then she added, “Self-deprecation is not the answer to humility. Sometimes you say, ‘I deserve it.’”
And no one would argue that Davis deserves the accolades, particularly since the Oscar was preceded by both an Emmy and Tony award. But as successful women, many of us have trepidation about owning our successes, and even feel as if we are impostors if we earn awards, new job titles, promotions, bonuses, praise, pats on the back, even perks.
“I would describe impostor syndrome as a sort of ‘size of achievement’ dysmorphia. And it can affect us not just as high-achievers at work but also in the home and personal life as parents, spouses or as contributing members of society as a whole,” Ruth Ostrow writes in The Australian.
During Women’s History Month in March, we can nod to the millions of women in the past several generations who have reached high and felt like a fake doing it. From interns to the CEOS, at times successful women feel the self-doubt that disavows them from appreciating fully the success they have achieved.From interns to CEOS, many women feel the self-doubt of impostor syndrome Click To Tweet
“Psychological research in the early 1980s found an estimated 40 per cent of successful people consider themselves frauds, and more recent studies here and in Europe have found that up to 70 per cent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another. The term impostor phenomenon was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes at Georgia State University in the late 70s. Their works include the seminal report The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women,” according to Ostrow.
And even though men also claim to have the impostor syndrome, it is often attributed to successful women.
“While impostor syndrome is increasingly of interest to psychologists and neuroscientists, it’s not currently considered a disease. Compared to other psychological afflictions, there are only limited studies and anecdotal data on impostor syndrome’s genesis, symptoms, and who is likely to be afflicted, says Tara Swart, a leadership consultant, neuroscientist, and medical doctor who has been helping people overcome the condition for years,” writes Michael Grothaus in Fast Company.
“There is a common idea that women suffer from this syndrome more than men,” Swart told Grothaus. “That could be because women are generally more open to talking about their feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence than men are.”
So what can you do when you feel constrained by the feeling that you are a fake?What can you do to counter the feeling you are a fake? #impostorsyndrome Click To Tweet
Coren Apicella at the University of Pennsylvania and Johanna Molllerstrom at Humboldt University write in the New York Times, that being competitive can breed confidence in successful women.
“A recent study of ours, which will be published in May in the Papers and Proceedings issue of the American Economic Review, found that there are certain situations in which women can be just as competitive as men. When competing against others, we find, women are less sure about whether they can actually win the competition — even when their ability tells us that they are very likely to do so. In the case of self-competition there is no such gender difference in confidence.”
So the answer may be that you try to best yourself and that may silence the feelings of being an impostor.
“Creating opportunities for self-competition in the workplace, then, is one way to make women equally competitive as men. We recommend that when possible, bosses steer competitive pressure to focus on self-improvement and mastery rather than competitions among colleagues,” Apicella and Mollerstrom write.
“Fostering self-competition is not the only way to make women as competitive as men. Previous research has also shown that women are more willing to compete against other women than to compete against men. The reason may be that female opponents have a positive impact on women’s confidence in their ability to perform and win,” they write.
While the phrase, “fake it until you make it,” has reached hashtag status, every one of us knows that in order to really make it, faking it is not a part of the process. So eliminate “fake” from your vocabulary when referring to your own performance.
And if you do achieve an award, a promotion, snag a new client or launch a business venture, do not call it luck or random success. Unless you woke up one day to inherit it all, you likely earned the milestones legitimately. Don’t say it was easy to do, don’t discount the path to the top.When you do receive an award, do not call it luck. Call it hard work. #womenleaders Click To Tweet
Success does not land on you when you open the window. Sure, even Viola Davis admits she feels like an impostor sometimes. But she also spent 30 years working as an actor to get to where she is at 51 years old.
“When you’re experiencing self-doubt, it’s easy to accept thoughts at face value—especially negative, self-critical thoughts,” writes Rebecca Wessell in Business.com. “Instead of being your own worst critic, identify these thoughts for what they really are: imposter thoughts. Sometimes even telling yourself that you’re experiencing imposter syndrome can be enough to banish the negative thoughts.”
Then fill the space with positive thoughts and the confidence you deserve. Channel Viola if you need to. And practice your acceptance speech.