Ever been in a brainstorming session with ideas floating like soap bubbles in your head while you mentally pop every single one of them going “No. Don’t say that out loud. They’ll think you are stupid.” Yes? Well then, welcome to the boat. You’re suffering from a classic case of Imposter Syndrome. You’ll be pleased to know you share boat space with such wildly famous personalities as Maya Angelou, Tina Fey and Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operating Officer, Facebook). While the consensus is that the condition is incurable, there are case studies of fame that prove otherwise.
The solution begins with understanding this strange affliction and acknowledging that you’re not the only person dealing with it.
Imposter Syndrome is the voice inside your head that constantly seeds self-doubt. When praised for your accomplishments, you don’t feel worthy of the recognition. Instead, you feel guilty. “What if the next time around I can’t beat this. They’ll know I’m not good.”
Self-doubt is a problem that plagues women in particular. As Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book ‘Lean In’ – “We constantly undermine ourselves. Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their performance as worse than it actually is…”. Even when women do accept credit for their accomplishments, they are more likely to attribute their success to external factors like the support of their family, their bosses, sheer luck or hard work. However, when faced with failure, the situation is just reversed. Women internalize failure, thinking something is lacking in them. This absence of personal pride in success and personal ownership of failure fortifies the walls of Imposter Syndrome.
The question is, how do we break these walls of self-doubt. To start with, accept the fact that most people aren’t born brilliant. Steve Jobs didn’t fall out of his mummy’s tummy cradling an impeccably designed overpriced computer. Everyone spends most of their life slow crawling down the road to brilliance. Archimedes didn’t yell Eureka every time he sat in the bathtub. Some days he just soaped himself, played with a yellow rubber duck and wondered what’s for dinner. It is liberating to realize that your vulnerabilities are neither unique nor yours alone.
Mediocrity is common, but sometimes a mediocre idea contains a nugget of what could be gold. Maybe you don’t see it yet, but someone else in the room could. So let it out. At the end of the day when the meeting disperses and people go home and listen to their kids filling them in on the mundane details of history homework, no one will remember that once upon a time you had one stupid idea. The only person worried about people finding out that you’re secretly not Beyonce, is you.
– By Ahana Chaudhuri