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Let me assure you, this article is not about the title of the next movie in the Mission Impossible series. Imposter Syndrome is an actual psychological phenomenon that’s found in a large percentage of high achievers.  It reflects a belief in themselves that despite their track record of success, they will be discovered as incompetent. In Melody Wilding’s article, 5 Different Types of Imposter Syndrome, she reveals, “many high achievers share a dirty little secret: Deep down they feel like complete frauds—their accomplishments the result of serendipitous luck.  In short, it’s a hot mess of harmfulness.  If you’re familiar with the feeling of waiting for those around you to ‘find you out,’ it might be helpful to consider what type of imposter you are, so you can problem-solve accordingly.” 

Wilding turns to an expert on the subject of Imposter Syndrome, Dr. Valerie Young.  In Dr. Young’s book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposer Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of it, she’s categorized it into subgroups: The Perfectionist, the Superwoman/man, the Natural Genius, the Soloist, and the Expert.  According to Young, there are “competence types”—or internal rules that people who struggle with confidence attempt to follow.  Wilding notes, “Dr. Young builds on decades of research studying fraudulent feelings among high achievers.”  Below is a summary of the competence types Young identifies so you can see if you recognize yourself:

The Perfectionist– Perfectionists set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up (aka control freaks).  Ask yourself: Have you ever been accused of being a micromanager?  Do you have great difficulty delegating?  Even when you’re able to do so, do you feel frustrated and disappointed in the results?

Learn to take your mistakes in stride, viewing them as a natural part of the process.

Superwoman/man– Since people who experience this phenomenon are convinced they’re phonies amongst real-deal colleagues, they often push themselves to work harder and harder to measure up.  But this is just a false cover-up for their insecurities, and the work overload may harm not only their own mental health, but also their relationships with others. Imposter workaholics are actually addicted to the validation that comes from working, not to the work itself. 

The Natural Genius– Young says people with this competence type believe they need to be a natural “genius.” As such, they judge their competence based on ease and speed as opposed to their efforts. When you’re faced with a setback, does your confidence tumble because not performing well provokes a feeling of shame? Do you often avoid challenges because it’s so uncomfortable to try something you’re not great at?

The Soloist– Sufferers who feel as though asking for help reveals their phoniness are what Young calls Soloists.  It’s ok to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse assistance so that you can prove your worth.  “I don’t need anyone’s help.”  Does that sound like you?

The Expert– Experts measure their competence based on “what” and “how much” they know or can do.  Believing they will never know enough, they fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.  Are you constantly seeking out trainings or certifications because you think you need to improve your skills in order to succeed? Do you shy away from applying to job postings unless you meet every single educational requirement? Consider starting to practice just-in-time learning.  This means acquiring a skill when you need it—for example, if your responsibilities change—rather than hoarding knowledge for (false) comfort.

Wilding concludes, “If you’ve experienced Imposter Syndrome at any point in your career, you’ve chalked up your accomplishments to chance, charm, connections, or another external factor.  How unfair and unkind is that?  Take today as your opportunity to start accepting and embracing your capabilities.” Leave the Imposter Syndrome to actors like Tom Cruise that make millions delivering thrills as someone other than themselves.

Originally published in the Bay City Tribune on Sunday, May 19, 2019

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