There are very few people on the planet who haven’t, at some time or other, been afflicted at least at some level by so called ‘impostor syndrome’ – the feeling or belief they are in some way ‘not up to the job’.
Of course, it’s not always a specific ‘job’ as an employee. It may be a role such as parent or some other personal relationship position – often a source of annoyance between all varieties of ‘life partners’.
It wasn’t always this way, it’s a syndrome of ‘modern’ society even though it goes back many millennia. Before ‘civilisation’ or the gathering into towns and cities, back in tribal days, we were just who we were and what we ‘did’ grew with our lives until we became, by virtue of having been around a few decades, a ‘tribal elder’ who would naturally take on the responsibility in a group of running the village on account of their, man and woman, being the oldest and most experienced.
In those days there was no ‘education’ as such. Children were just shown what needed to be done, usually by their parents, and as they grew up increasingly contributed to keeping everything going.
Now the situation is different. Children are constantly being tested and held to account on knowledge they may never need, even in the early years. They are taught they are expected to ‘measure up’, to ‘perform’ according to certain standards and to ‘conform’ in some way or another. Alongside this ‘popular media’ on TV and elsewhere demonstrate what will happen to them if they don’t.
It’s not surprising we repeat the mantra ‘am I good enough?’ whenever we enter a new situation or environment. If we don’t do something about this for ourselves, we’ll slide into depression and gloom as a result of also being ‘educated’ to prioritise the negative side, the risk, and the danger of every situation.
It’s nothing really to do with whether or not we are ‘good enough’. Even when we are congratulated, praised, rewarded and promoted because when this happens the cycle begins again. Even if we make a lot of money or achieve fame or power in some way, the nagging doubt is still there, and what’s strange is the more successful and powerful some people become the more this impostor syndrome manifests itself.
Actors, musicians, sports people, artists and writers at the ‘top of their game’ still have massive anxieties and fears about whether they are up to it, whether they are ‘still’ good enough to perform in the way they have been doing successfully for a long time. Several great creators and entertainers have ended their own lives because they just don’t believe they are as good and brilliant as they are.
Then there are the great leaders in business and politics. They also have the belief they aren’t good enough. They have to do more, go even further, to ‘prove themselves’ to themselves and to ‘win’ at whatever it is they do. They set themselves probably the most impossible targets they can think of to ‘revive’ or ‘rebuild’ or ‘expand’ – to make their company or their country ‘great’ – greater than whatever they see as the competition or the enemy, who may not even see themselves in that way. The problem is “making the company/country ‘great’ again” may not be effectively possible and instead be set on a path to a downfall.
All the ‘great dictators’ of the past have suffered from this and eventually failed, many eliminating on the way anyone who might have another point of view they fear, in case it might be ‘better’ than their solution to whatever the ‘question’ is they have set out to solve. Other leaders, notably Churchill have had massive attacks of depression (which he called ‘black dog’) on the way to ultimately achieving what they looked to do, even though there were sometimes side effects of their actions.
Impostor syndrome is insidious, undermining all we want to do with our lives, but it can be beaten. It can be eliminated. Look out for my feature post ‘#Freedom from Impostor Syndrome’ over the next week or so to find out how.