Impostor syndrome is the new black: how good work starts to feel like good luck


Kamrin Baker

Icon courtesy of Pixel Buddha via Flaticon

I am a very successful young woman. Without listing my entire resume, I can tell you I started writing for the Huffington Post when I was 15 and have written for at least ten other publications (either national, regional or local) since then. However, my entire professional life hinges on the idea that I just got lucky, that I was at the right place at the right time, and that I continue to suddenly emerge victoriously, even though I’m kind of just winging it all.

Most of us are just winging it, but I recently felt compelled to take responsibility and ownership over my success and that the reason I’m having trouble doing so is because I struggle with impostor syndrome.

Impostor syndrome (a term coined in 1978 by two women researchers) is the belief that one’s success is not deserved or has not been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills. Although my late nights, early mornings and inundated desktop screen prove that I work very hard to accomplish the things that I do, I often feel that my original ideas are a gift from some universal power; that the work I do simply culminates in a series of events out of my control that allow me to climb the ladder.

In reality, I work very hard, I am very talented, and I am proud of the work I accomplish. I am pretty good at presenting to people that I am confident in my abilities and have a well-rounded self esteem. I share most—if not all—of my articles on social media, invite loved ones to scholarship receptions and know that I deserve my honors when I surpass my previous GPA or knock it out of the park on a research paper.

However, there is still a small, doubtful voice inside my head that tells me it wasn’t my doing—or rather, that I was wrongly given the opportunity to succeed. That I just got lucky. It’s one thing to be grateful for the support system in my back pocket, or to believe in a higher power that can guide me through difficult situations (which is also iffy for me anyway), but it can truly be detrimental to my long-term success to genuinely believe that my skills and determination are not at the root of my achievements.

The kicker? Impostor syndrome often affects women more than it does men.

While it would be wrong to make any blanket statements about gender and confidence in regards to impostor syndrome, it is clear that successful women face a self esteem gap—especially in the workplace—because we have less historical experience kicking ass at work than do men. This is not to say that men do not also share feelings of this nature, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the systemic inequity that keeps women from emerging as leaders.

In fact, according to a Forbes report, two-thirds of women in the UK suffer from impostor syndrome, feeling like frauds or that they are ill equipped to be in their positions.

The Harvard Business Review adds that women often feel that they cannot apply for a job unless they are 100 percent qualified for the position, while men are usually ready to submit an application at 60 percent of sureness. The article continues to detail why many women might feel that way, and it’s eye-opening.

Even more, the previously mentioned report from Forbes showed that the sector reporting the highest amounts of impostor syndrome are those in the creative arts and design industries, with 87 percent of employees expressing they felt inadequacies and symptoms of impostor syndrome within the previous year.

So, as a woman writer, I’m right in the sweet spot to doubt myself. And I am not a special breed of young, successful woman. Celebrities, who we typically assume have “made it,” suffer from these thoughts, as well. Rachel Bloom and Lupita N’yongo are among countless female artists, CEO’s and leaders who have feelings of doubt that persist through their careers, according to this article from Hello Giggles.

One of my mutual social media followers, writer Kelsey Barnes, tweeted recently about feeling like she doesn’t deserve to interview famous or fascinating people. I replied to her with a similar sentiment. I can never believe I am allowed to do the work that I do, or that I am even remotely qualified.

Who let me? Who said I could apply for that position? Write that story? Interview that elected official?

Photo from Twitter

I messaged Kelsey and asked her how long she had been feeling this way.

“It was definitely when I was in high school. Growing up, I never really had a talent that you could name. I was in the school band, but I wasn’t as great as others. I loved art, but my drawings were never as good as my classmates,” Barnes said.

“I’ve always believed there was always someone that had more talent or skill than I did. When I did get praise or compliments from teachers, I would brush them off because I didn’t really believe that I was as good as other people. It would feel good for a moment but that little impostor syndrome monster would creep in and say ‘but this person is better!’ It’s something that hasn’t really left since I was young. Even now I hesitate to call myself a writer or journalist because I don’t feel qualified enough or eloquent enough as others.”

Barnes said that she even feels like she has to proof read every single tweet that comes from her profile because if she misspells something, someone might scoff at the “writer” title in her bio.

“I would say it’s prevalent in the careers of women because we have always been conditioned to compete with one another to an extent, so we are always looking over another person’s shoulder to see all of the cool and amazing stuff that they are doing and thinking that it’s better.”

While I wish I could say the feeling of inadequacy falls away completely when I listen to “Good As Hell” by Lizzo and write a really solid article, it turns out I have been molded into a woman who steps back, deflects compliments, and does good work that simply feels like good luck.

Time says confronting and interacting with one’s impostor syndrome is an excellent first step in combatting it, so I think a well-researched 1,000+ word article on my insecurities is a damn good place to start.