Imposter Syndrome: Why intelligent, hard-working people don’t believe they are worthy of the success they have achieved

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Over the past few months I have been struggling with a feeling of not being good enough for the work I do, or for the work I would like to do in the future. I received my TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate six years ago. I have taught dozens of private and group courses, worked with both children and adults, obtained extensive experience as an English editor and continue to receive praise from my students. Nevertheless, I feel uncomfortable referring to myself as an English teacher, I hesitate to offer my services as an editor as I fear that I don’t actually know what I’m doing, and I certainly feel vulnerable every time I post a blog entry.

Recently, I became flabbergasted when speaking to a new colleague, as I was certain he would see through me. He is from the UK and I was sure that my Canadian English was insufficient, and somehow inferior to his perfect British speech. I became paranoid that I would make a grammatical error or use colloquialisms and that I would be found out for the imposter that I am. I ended up tripping over my words and felt incredibly embarrassed and unable to express myself. I let the feelings of inferiority get to me and certainly did not perform as well in my first English lesson as I could have if I’d had more self-confidence.

In the past, I believed this was purely an issue of low self-esteem, until I read about Imposter Syndrome, which is described as a response to success found in some high-achieving individuals. They refuse to believe the evidence of their accomplishments, and to instead they attribute their achievements to luck or other external forces. These individuals do not believe they are worthy of having achieved success and often worry that they are frauds or imposters.

We see the achievements of others and believe that they must be intelligent or creative or determined in order to have obtained the level of success that they have. On the other hand, when we look at ourselves, we do not believe that our accomplishments are related to who we are or what we have done, but rather are the result of being in the right place at the right time or tricking people into thinking we are better than we actually are. Why is it that we cannot bask in the glory of our own efforts?

I believe that, at least for me, part of the problem is the desire to remain humble. I have such an adverse reaction to people who brag about how great they are, or assume that they are superior, that I tend to downplay all of my accomplishments and abilities in order not to sound snotty. I accept praise by offering another explanation for the success.

“Oh you enjoyed the meal? Well, I just followed the recipe from the book.”

“I probably only won because of the way the cards were drawn. I’m really not a good poker player.”

It’s no wonder that I don’t feel confident enough in my abilities; I feel guilty acknowledging them.  I feel bad about being successful as I don’t want to appear arrogant, but I let my feelings swing too far in the opposite direction and end up no longer believing that I am deserving of praise or success.  Therefore, if I want to have the confidence necessary to stand up in front of a class of students and feel that I am worthy of teaching them English, I need to first teach myself that I can do it, that I already have done it many times and that I am great at it.  More importantly, I want to be able to stand in a room full of English teachers and be able to speak without stuttering and without questioning my right to be there.

It is important that we see our past successes as a result of our amazing abilities. Everyone makes mistakes, but we can’t let a few little mistakes erase all of the things we have done well. It wasn’t luck that brought us to where we are now; it is our hard work, our intelligence, our tenacity and our passion. We are all worthy of the accomplishments we achieve and we are all pretty incredible people. We do not need to be ashamed of our own greatness. We need to believe in ourselves.

 

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