Have you ever felt like an imposter? I have.

Imposter

[ 7 min read ]


Despite the heavily air-conditioned room, I could feel the perspiration starting to form on my forehead. If I could slow down time and block out all other sounds, as they sometimes showed in the movies, I am sure that I would have heard my heart beat loudly in the cavity of my chest. My fingers trembled slightly as they announced the results. Around me, the entire table erupted into a loud cacophony of howls, whistles, claps and congratulatory messages.

 

I know, I should have been happy. Ecstatic even, but I just couldn’t get myself to be so. As I walked onto the dias to collect the award, I heard him clear his throat – that chubby little devil of self-doubt sitting on my shoulder, ever ready to slyly push those morsels of insecurity into my mind. I could almost hear him whisper: ‘Are you sure you deserve this?’

 

This is not a piece of fiction. It is, in fact, a very real snippet of a scene that transpired during the WIN’15 Blogging awards held by BlogAdda. Of course, most people who were around me may not have noticed my nervousness at all, because I often do a pretty good job of hiding it. But that does not dismiss the fact that I was extremely anxious. And the uneasiness arose from the fact that I could possibly win an award for my blogging. And that somewhere deep down, there was this nagging voice asking me if I really deserved the recognition.

 

‘But you are quite successful at what you do’.

 

This is something that I often hear from friends and well-wishers. Most times, I just smile and dismiss it saying, ‘Oh, I’ve just been lucky’ or ‘it’s been pretty good fortune so far’. No, it’s not modesty. Every time someone says something about my achievements, there is something internally pushing it back as an ‘accidental’ or ‘fortunate’ set of events. In other words, I have trouble taking or accepting credit for something that I actually did achieve.

 

That’s what Imposter Syndrome is all about – an intellectual fraudulence of sorts, where you feel that whatever you have achieved has been quite ‘accidental’ and that you perhaps haven’t earned it.

 

If I’m honest, I suspect that I have been plagued by this condition for as long as I can remember. For instance, I graduated in the top percentile of my class for both my Bachelors and Masters degrees. I even had several promotions and recognition over the course of my almost-decade-long professional corporate career. However, when I had to apply for a new role, I found myself asking, ‘Who is going to hire me? What if I’ve just been fortuitous so far? What if they discover that I don’t actually know what I’m talking about or that I have absolutely no skill set to talk about?’

 

For years, I’ve kept all these doubts, insecurities and imposter-like feelings bottled up inside. Not even my wife had a clue about it.  After all, I was still very ‘fortunate’ to have found work that I seemed to be good at, and there was no need to ‘rock the boat’, as one would say.

 

It wasn’t until I started writing and blogging, that I started to experience stronger, and sometimes uglier sides, of this imposter phenomenon. Honestly, I suppose anyone in any field could technically experience this syndrome. But I suspect that it is slightly more prevalent in fields where your results aren’t exactly ‘physically tangible’ and where your work is subject to critique by a larger number of people.

 

I have often re-read pieces of fiction that I have written and been very well-received, and asked myself, ‘Did I really write that?’ Or more importantly, ‘will I ever be able to write like or better than that?’

 

Sometimes when I see my awards for blogging sitting in the showcase, I feel like I am in the middle of an amazing dream, and that at some point, someone will wake me up and say that it was all a big mistake and that all of the recognition belongs to someone one else.

 

I have often been crippled by the thought that normal people like me could not possibly be worthy of great things or such success. I have lived in the perpetual fear that someday, someone will discover how incapable and ‘talentless’ I really am, and be exposed for the fraud that I sometimes think I am.

 

I have sometimes felt like an actor who plays the role of a writer or a blogger in real life, and that if I was ever put on the spot and asked to write something, I would fail miserably and once again be ridiculed for being unable to do so.

 

But over the past few months, I have come to realise something. That one of the base reasons behind my (and most others’) imposter syndrome is the rather skewed definition that we have of success and successful people. While often some of these stem from heavy criticism that we may have faced as a child, I believe most of us have suffered from imposter syndrome in various degrees or levels. So, I suppose it is safe to say that it manifests from a combination of self-doubt, anxiety, the unending urge to seek perfection in everything we do and extremely harsh criticism of your own work. In some way, it is like a form of self-inflicted punishment.

 

The problem, ever so often, is that we have drilled it into our heads that we don’t deserve it or deserve to be somewhere. It is sort of like your best frenemy sitting on your shoulder and constantly asking you if you’re good enough or if you deserve it.

 

And as much as I hate to admit it, our culture has successfully planted these strange ideas in our mind that success means ‘so and so’. Even as children, we are constantly being compared against, told where we are presently and where we could potentially be. And, social media does its best to fuel this syndrome by parading a constant stream of success stories, lists that feature ‘successful’ people who are half your age but with bank balances more than what you could envision in your lifetime, and of course, the magic mantra to be the best version of yourselves, only if you buy the book or the course authored by some of these highly successful people.

 

Author Maya Angelou once said: "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.' “

 

So, yes, almost everyone experiences this at least once in their lifetime. Unless of course, you are a serial narcissist or have set an extremely low bar for your own achievements. The reason? Because I believe imposter syndrome is also set up by our inherent fear of failure or not being good at something. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The way forward is not about how you can ‘escape’ imposter syndrome, but how you can use it to help you take the actions that will help you achieve your goals or aspirations.

 

But as I’ve discovered over the course of this journey of mine – A big part of overcoming imposter syndrome is coming to terms with two facts:

 

One) That there are others around you who feel the same way; and Two)  That it is not necessary for you to attain perfection in everything in order to be worthy of the success that you’ve achieved or a recognition given to you. In other words, the acceptance that it is okay not to have all the answers.

 

Look at Maya Angelou for instance; the literary world would surely have been less ‘inspired and enriched’ had she decided to let her fear of being ‘exposed’ get the better of her. I suppose now is a good time as any to ‘restart’ work on those pending manuscripts of mine.

Comments

  1. Chandni

    No wonder you have the perfect things to say to me .. coz you and I are the same people Sid.
    Reading you was like reading myself. just better worded thoughts ..
    I have felt like an imposter [ a milder word for a fraud] all my life.. deep inside my heart I know I deserve success but it always comes too little and too late and by then I have convinced myself that perhaps I am not really meant for the bigger things ..
    But then I read posts like these and like you realize there are more people feeling exactly the same thing.
    that’s why perhaps we blog .. to connect via space and time with people who are just on the same bandwidth and then the masks come off .. ever so briefly .. but they do and just like that we aren’t imposters any more!
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  2. CookieCrumbsInc.

    I have no words for wisdom, Sid, here I am, chilling out smack dab in the middle of the lowest point in my “writing career”. When you say “did I write that” and “will I ever be able to write something like that or better ever”, you’re basically reciting my slogan.

    But I think as long as *you know* that you have put in the work, you should always pat yourself on the back, no matter what the results. While it IS important not to go off the deep end, self-love is something we don’t seem to have realized the importance of.

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  3. Vidya Sury

    So wise, Sid. It is part of the human makeup to experience imposter syndrome–perhaps the nicest example is that of going back to something we’ve written, and wondering, did i really write that?

    Remember, I told you I had a post scheduled around this topic. Now I’ve reworked it to blend it with another, close to my heart.

    Hugs! Wishing you a wonderful July!
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  4. Ramya Abhinand

    Didnt know this condition actually had a name. And I am surprised after reading your comments and the post that there are a sizeable number of people who do have this syndrome. Until now it was only me!!! To the extent that I have often thought that having gotten myself a great spouse, …. well must have been accidental too!!!!!!!

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  5. Stefinia

    Congrats Sid!! You really deserve the award I mean it!! … I admire you coz well you are a stay at home Dad taking care of a kid, not many men are like that. You earn money doing freelancing, must be a multitasker…seem to be slightly honest and able to express sarcasm very well and don’t seem to have much ego. Your awesome man!! … You are a star blogger, Dad, I also assume husband, son and many things I guess. Goodday… You may not be a perfect manager nevertheless you get yourself to manage and do different things and stuff…
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      Sid

      Thank you so much! Just read the comment this morning and totally has set my Friday on the right path. After all, compliments are always a good soothing balm for the soul.
      I have been rather fortuitous, if I am honest, Stefinia. But thank you so much once again!
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  6. Prateek Mathur

    A wonderfully honest post, Sid. There’s a leadership mantra that’s quite famous, and frankly, basic – “fake it till you make it”.
    So you have successfully done both :).

    All of us do it and it is quite natural in my opinion. The trick is to know when to stop faking it and face the reality if you are truly terrible at something! I believe the world isn’t kind enough to let you on for too long anyways, if that’s the case.

    Loved this post !

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      Sid

      Yes, I have heard aplenty. I would say I probably ‘accidentally faked’ it 🙂

      Facing the reality is really the tough part – because sometimes you never know when it’s enough. And because people who are close to you shy away from telling you the truth, it becomes difficult.
      The classic example of all bloggers trying to write bestselling books could be one of those. I am too 😀
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  7. Damyanti

    I have this too, and I don’t even have any achievements to speak of 🙂

    It is good to be filled with self-doubt as long as it doesn’t cripple you. I find those who are totally, absolutely sure of their views, apabilities and success sort of hard to understand, and empathise with.

    Possibly says more about me than about them, but I there you go– I like doubting thomases.

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  8. Shantala

    I can say ditto to most of what you have written here, but then you would already know that. 🙂

    Having said that, I believe many of us feel this way, and this is more than just the twin thing. But I believe it’s because we are overly critical of ourselves, and expect more of ourselves, which is why nothing ever feels good enough.

    How to overcome that? No idea. Though let me know when you figure it out. 🙂
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  9. Nilima Mohite

    Good day Sid,
    Yes I am a victim of the Imposter Syndrome too. Guess most of us are and seldom try to recover or dissolve it completely.
    I got the name for this when I read the Book: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I blogged about it, read the Chapter 2 about it : http://nav-justanyrandomtopic.blogspot.in/2014/02/book-review-lean-in-by-sheryl-sandberg.html Do read the book if you havent.

    I faced it in 2011, my last company where the managers in the initial days made me feel like a genius and once I announced my marriage and later my pregnancy, made me feel incompetent. Later when I tried to join back the work force and couldnt clear most interviews the voice got stronger. Even in blogging or in my mommy circles, if someone praises me for my posts or the info I share, that lil devil voice inside ur head or on ur shoulder 🙂 will remark something cynical.

    So now-a-days I follow the advice my 1st mentor at work gave, dont just shrug it off when someone gives you a compliment, receive it gracefully and pat yourself on the back.

    Or like I the story we were told in a school orientation program, about a class of lil girls who were told to write about themselves in 2lines. A lil girl in the middle of the night looked hard at herself in the mirror and wrote: I am Me and I am Good. Coz, God makes no Junk !

    Somedays its easy to squash that voice but somedays it gets the better of us. But believe me, Each of us is the Best we can be and deserve all the good things. 🙂
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      Sid

      Oh my! That qualifies as quite a post in itself, and you know what – I love long meaningful comments and discussions like that.

      So, thank you so much, Nilima. And that is some ‘kickass’ advice from your first mentor. We could all do with following that.
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  10. Gobblefunkist

    I believe it is the devil in our heads that make us push ourselves beyond endurance. In a way, it is a blessing, cortisol overload notwithstanding.

    You, sir, are not alone, and I hope you know it. Blogdom is full of us.
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  11. Saumy Nagayach

    I strongly believe that, the little devil inside our head never comes to rescue; when needed the most. It always leaves us with a blank face and question that how we react in situations such as, when we don’t anticipate that something good is going to happen. I’ve felt like an imposter many a times in my professional life and regretted later for some logically “imperfect” reasons. Anxiety being the major contributor; always plays spoilsport.

    Brilliant writing, as always! 🙂
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      Sid

      Then it really wouldn’t be the ‘devil’ would it? It really kicks the butt of that angel who attempts to too 🙂
      I have come to realise that we all go through these phases – personally, professionally and sometimes even socially.

      The key is learn to believe in yourself.

      Thanks, Saumy. Always good to see you here.
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  12. Roshni

    I feel like it’s because you have a higher standard for yourself than other people. I totally agree with your analysis about social media! Sometimes I see an effusive comment on my blog and think to myself, that the post really isn’t all THAT great! 😀 But, maybe I’m just a cynical person, so I keep my thoughts close and just thank the person!

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      Sid

      I suppose that is true. And I think, as much as we may deny it, in some ways we are constantly competing with ourselves to put up better stuff or work or be a better version of ourselves – thereby constantly raising the bar of the standard.

      Thanks, Roshni. Social Media definitely has its perks – but these days, it’s just becoming a venom spewing rat race of sorts, where every one is out to better the other.

      Haha…you’re not cynical. I think it’s about perception – of course, cant deny that bloggers in general are sometimes more used to the ‘backscratch’; although many of us are trying to change it.

      Always a pleasure to see you here, Rosh!
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  13. Soumya

    Okay, this will not come in as a surprise but I have never felt this way. Ever.

    I’m a realist and think that hard work and smart work speak for itself and one always deserves what they get. Good or bad. I know I’m good at what I do and if something appreciative comes my way, I do feel good as I have put in a certain amount if work for it. Be it my professional work or my writing.

    You are a good writer and that is why all these awards and recognition is coming your way. Embrace it second. First, accept it.

    Remind me to give you a thump on your bum next time you doubt yourself.
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      Sid

      *Cough* Narcissist *Cough* ! 😛

      Just kidding – I know you as well as anyone could, and you are one of those few people who I know strongly believes in doing the best with the ‘hand that you’re dealt’. And you’re inspiring for many of us for that very reason.

      Thanks, Soumya. [No, molesting my poor bum :P]
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  14. Hema

    Oh Sid, we’re all in the same boat with the same insecurities and anxieties! Please read ‘The Artist’s Way’ if you haven’t already.

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  15. Nabanita Dhar

    I feel that way at work all the time. There is this voice which tells me I’m not good at what I do and they are going to find out. I feel the same way about my writing as well and I haven’t won anything so that adds to the doubts. I guess it is something that happens when we really want to do well. The doubts are just our way of keeping us on our toes but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Some about of self-doubt is important but when it gets too much I try to think of anything that I have done well, and it could be anything, a trifle even but I always feel a little better after that.
    So, don’t worry and try not to think too much 🙂
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      Sid

      Yes, a lot of people seem to feel that way too. Especially at work.
      The winning is secondary, Naba. I think it’s more this meeting of ‘self-doubt’ and ‘wanting to do your best’ that makes this quite a complext thing.

      Just like you said, worry not 🙂
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  16. Rachna

    I can’t think of anyone who has not been plagued with self-doubt or felt like an imposter. I have felt like that a few times myself. While it is good to be grounded, it is also equally important to pat yourself on the back at times. I think being in close proximity to folks who are honest, caring and will tell you the way it is is very crucial too. Most praise on social media is quite overboard and sometimes one cannot fathom the motive behind it too. Call me cynical, but that is how I feel. I accept compliments graciously but don’t let them go to my head. The only ones that go to my head are those from my immediate family, close family and some close friends. The others are feel-good.

    That bit about reading your really good writing actually brought smile to my face. Wow! I wrote that is what I feel. 🙂

    Let this trait not make us insecure or haggle for attention or constantly act like a victim. That is really putting off. I hope you can feel more confident about your achievements, Sid. They are all well deserved.

    At the end of the day, we should be our own competition and it is ourselves that we have to convince of our worth. I live by that, and that is what I teach my kids. Mindlessly competing with others just makes one very unhappy and unable to enjoy our own successes.

    Good luck!
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      Sid

      Not at all, Rachna. The same goes for some comments on the blog posts too – quite cynical about those too.
      And yes, having a tribe of people who can genuinely give you feedback as well as whose compliments you know are genuine is quite a key thing too.

      Thank you for the long meaningful comment. Appreciate it.
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  17. Mybookjacket

    Oh how I would kill to be a serial narcissist. I seem to have the opposite problem. Atleast we aren’t alone in feeling like this though. And yes Sid, you do deserve it.
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  18. Mithila Menezes

    “incapable and talentless”?? You’re sounding like Kreacher, when he used to call Hermione a mudblood. Don’t forget: you are Hermione, not Kreacher.

    I too feel like an imposter when it comes to blogging. (Or maybe I am one? Who knows.) What helps me if I panic, is reading the comments section of my blog. Seems vain, I know. But it works wonders on my teenaged mind. As you said, writing and blogging fall under the ‘physically intangible and subject to public critique’ kind of profession. So reading nice comments works for me.

    P.S.: The last line is a cue for you to take note of my Harry Potter analogy, and read it when you feel like an imposter. 😀
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      Sid

      Haha!
      Little one, trust you to bring a Harry Potter reference here 🙂

      To be honest, I sometimes feel like Ron – especially amongst the Hermoines of the world. But yes, I shall graciously accept that compliment.

      You are not an imposter – you are destined for *GREAT* things. Reading nice comments is very soothing indeed.

      Thanks, Mithila. You rock, as always.
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  19. Obsessivemom

    This is so frighteningly similar to what I feel that I don’t even know what to say here. And that bit about reading your better writings and wondering if it was really you – bang on. Oh and I firmly believe I am very lucky – that is true for sure – so a lot of good things I think come from there.
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      Sid

      Well, we have similar thoughts on a lot of things, Tulika – so not really that surprising 🙂

      And no, it isn’t just luck – you deserve the good things that you got and have achieved 🙂

  20. Parul Thakur

    Imposter Syndrome is real and stats suggest that at a workplace more women feel as imposters than men. Having said that, I agree with the two of your last points. Acceptance is the key in my mind and then the belief in self.
    For sure – you should not think anything else that you deserve all the accolades and many more.
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      Sid

      Yes, I read those stats somewhere too. Although, I’m not sure why women feel that way more – of course, patriarchy and the way we generally treat women at the work place certainly could be a reason.

      Thanks, Parul. Appreciate the pat on the back.

  21. Anindya Sundar Basu

    I have no awards so no imposter syndrome in Blogging but at times in my professional career also I have felt that am I worth all this ? Or like I have been sheer lucky where lot of other people who were more talented and more hardworking could have done a better job. Whatever it is, I feel Imposter syndrome is a necessary evil .

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      Sid

      Ha! You don’t need ‘awards’ to feel this way, Anin. Just a by-product of success in every field sometimes.
      I don’t know you ‘professionally’ – but your photos and blog deserves the accolades that it gets and all the compliments.
      Yes, that’s one way of looking at it – certainly helps keep us grounded and makes us want to get better
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  22. Shailaja V

    Impostor syndrome is very real and affects us all. It’s especially more for those with type A personalities who set high expectations of themselves. (I fall into that). It’s only when I let go and focused on two things that things improved. One, knowing that I deserve everything I’ve worked hard for. Two, to stop comparing myself to other people in the field.

    Enjoy the awards and the recognition. You’ve earned them and rightly so. Don’t doubt yourself.
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  23. Akshata

    I dint really think I have the imposter syndrome but I recognize having if a year back with regard to my job. I was so dillusioned and had lost confidence in my capabilities due to a few people who never lost a chance to make me feel low. When I decided to change my job after 7 long years, I doubted my abilities. Do I really know what I am doing? Will they find out I am totally incompetent? I faced the first interview and knew my fears are totally baseless. Your post talks about good ways of learning how to work around this syndrome. cheers!

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      Sid

      Imposter Syndrome is probably just a fancier term – I suspect we all have it in some way. And yes, self-doubt definitely adds more fuel to this ‘fire’ too.

      Oh yes. I still wonder if I’ll feel the same way when I have to attend an interview or go back to the corporate life.

      Thanks for reading and sharing, Akshata.
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