Wheeler del Torro is a celebrity chef and serial entrepreneur. He is the founder and lead educator of Performance Strategies Lab, a think tank and consulting firm that teaches networking and other vital social skills to undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students to help maximize their investment in higher education.
The imposter syndrome, also known as imposter phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is hard to define and harder still to detect. Clinical studies have shown that approximately 70% of the world population has been affected at some point in their life. What begins as a feeling of nervousness and a desire to excel often culminates into low self-confidence, stress, anxiety, shame, depression, and self-doubt. While it is human nature to want to improve on past mistakes, people who have this syndrome are constantly revisiting incidents in their life where they failed, made mistakes, or received negative criticism from others.
The greatest obstacle for any individual in moving past the imposter syndrome is being too fearful of confronting their inadequacies. Imposter syndrome causes individuals to question the success they are experiencing and that is why it is most common among high achievers and those with strong work ethics. If you feel that people around you think too highly of you, you may be one of the many people who is silently suffering from imposter syndrome.
It is important to understand that you are not alone. Famous writer Agatha Christie once wrote that “even nowadays, I do not quite feel as if I am a writer”. Award-winning actress Meryl Streep says that it is not uncommon for her to “have a perfectly horrible day where you doubt your talent…or that you’re boring and they’re going to find out what you don’t know what you are doing”. It often seems that the higher the success, the more undeserving one feels.
How does the imposter syndrome appear in our lives?
- We all know our personal limitations and strengths, but when we are out in public or our position is such that is has an influence on other people, we paint a picture of perfection. Have you ever been asked to comment on how you managed to achieve a specific success? Like most of us, your first thought was probably to comment on what most people would perceive as the perfect answer, even if it wasn’t the way that you achieved the desired outcome. This is a perfect example of a symptom of the imposter syndrome.
- When we bottle our emotions up, we take the risk that they will explode into uncontrollable anger or suppress our human nature. When you are successful in life, people separate you from problems in their life. You can’t blame them; quite often we appear so put together that even when we actually do have an issue, we will not tell anyone about it. If you find yourself unable to speak to people about your problems or challenges, you likely suffer from the imposter syndrome.
- When we organize our lives in such a way that our professional life takes center stage, it often seems to people that we are operating on a superhuman level. Our schedule at work requires us to travel between three states in a day and it can be hectic, but nobody sees us when we get home. The house is a mess because the dog got out of his kennel, dinner is burnt because we are too engrossed in the nightly news or the latest sitcom, we have laundry to do but are too exhausted … yet others don’t see this side of us; they see the superhuman who works 14 hour days and has a successful career.
If the above sounds like you, there is no need to panic. First, because the phenomenon is very common, and, secondly, because you can manage it. Here are a few ways you might find effective:
- Appreciate the learning curve: if you are successful, you are likely often used as a reference point in your organization or field of expertise. However, when you get a chance to be the less experienced person in the room, take advantage of it. There is a benefit in being the new one. Without the pressure of having all the answers to issues as they arise within your profession, there is a possibility that you will be able to open your mind to new ways of approaching problems and, in turn, finding solutions for them.
- Change your mindset with regards to performance: When you are performing better than the rest of your team, everybody’s attention will be on you. While it is fulfilling to excel in whatever you are engaged in, it is more rewarding to improve yourself by embracing knowledge. By focusing on self-improvement, you will automatically prevent yourself from getting overly concerned with how unfit you are for a certain job. The imposter syndrome does not thrive on active learning but rather on the evidence of a limitation.
- Change your perception of reality: Now that you realize that you suffer from imposter syndrome, your perception might be that you are all alone in this; it is natural to feel alone with our problems, so do not beat yourself up. Just know that your situation is not unique. Thousands of successful people suffer from this same syndrome. Acknowledge this and you will be more open to tackling the underlying issues as opposed to the achievements.
- Change your opinion of yourself: Learn to see what others see in you. You have accomplished great things because of your skills, connections, and personality. You deserve what you have earned, and your accomplishments will only grow the more readily you accept these truths. And when you have success? No matter how large or small, psychologist Dr. Pauline Clance recommends that you “develop and implement rewards for success – learn to celebrate”.
If you are currently experiencing the imposter syndrome, you can find solace in knowledge: knowledge of what the syndrome is, how it affects you, and how you can handle it. You can overcome it and still succeed in life. Embrace that success.
Join chef and serial entrepreneur Wheeler del Torro in a roundtable event to discuss and learn more about imposter syndrome. Imposter Syndrome Round Table, co-Sponsored by the CAS Proud to Be First Program, will be held March 28, 5:30-7:00PM. To RSVP, click here.
 Sakulku, J. and Alexander, J. (2011). “The imposter phenomenon”. International Journal of Behavioral Science. 6(1): 73-92.
 Retrieved on 15 September 2016 from http://talentdevelop.com/2434/dealing-with-self-sabotage-getting-beyond-impostor-feelings/
 Clance, P. (1985). The imposter phenomenon. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.