I should succeed on my own. I need to know everything. I have to be perfect.
Many of us are familiar with this demanding sort of self-talk. We tend to believe it will motivate us to reach further for success.
But in reality, speaking to ourselves in this way is what sets the tone for impostor syndrome - the feeling that we haven’t earned our achievements. It may even cause us to feel shame when we fail to clear the unreasonably high bar we set for ourselves. While others may perceive our efforts as a resounding success, we feel like we’ve conned our way to victory.
This experience may sound like yours, but perhaps it doesn’t totally capture what you feel when your impostor syndrome gets triggered. That’s okay. Everyone experiences impostor syndrome a little differently because our definitions of competence are not the same.
Yet broadly speaking, there are five different categories of “impostors” that have been identified by Valerie Young, a leading impostor syndrome expert. They are:
- The Perfectionist. Scoring less than 100% on a test, or finding one flaw in an otherwise perfect job interview, makes the Perfectionist feel like a failure and a fraud.
- The Expert. The Expert expects to know everything about a certain subject, and frequently finds themself feeling inadequate when they don’t.
- The Soloist. Who completed the task? If it wasn’t the Soloist and the Soloist alone, then it doesn’t count as a success. For them, receiving help is the equivalent of failure.
- The Natural Genius. If a task isn’t completed with ease and speed, the Natural Genius doesn’t feel like they’ve earned their achievements. The idea of success being the result of a long, arduous struggle is anathema to them.
- The Superman/Superwoman/Super Student. A+ in math? Fine. B+ in history? For this type of impostor, it’s unacceptable. If they’re not excelling in many different roles at once—mother, worker, artist, friend, volunteer, etc.—then they aren’t yet successful.
Do any of these sound familiar? You may even identify as two or more of these types. Learning how your impostor syndrome functions in more detail can help you recognize when you’re experiencing failure-related shame even in the midst of success. “I didn’t earn this reward. I’m a fluke.” “Everyone clapped and cheered for me, but I couldn’t have sung that song any worse.”
Recognizing when we speak to ourselves in this way is only half the battle. From there, the fastest track to overcoming impostor syndrome is to redefine what we view as “competence.” That bar you can’t seem to consistently clear? Try moving it down a few rungs. Accept that you and everyone around you are works-in-progress and that perfection is impossible.
Also, reflect on where your impostor syndrome comes from in your own life. Most likely, it is a distortion of positive values like mastery, integrity, and excellence. If you can learn to use these values as motivation to reach further for success, rather than feel shame each time you’ve failed to fulfill them to perfection, you’ll begin to feel more confidence and joy when you succeed.
All that’s easier said than done. So say it! Talking about your experience with others is a great way to realize that you’re not alone in this. When you go deep enough in conversation with others, you’ll likely discover that they too have felt unworthy of their success at some point, or even at that very moment. That solidarity is arguably what breeds more confidence than anything else.
United in Our Journey
At Oats Overnight, we’re always asking, “How can we do things better?” This desire for excellence has helped us create a new, superior way to do breakfast, and we’re pretty pleased with that. At the same time, we’d be lying if we said that as a young company we rarely struggle with impostor syndrome. If you also wrestle with this, we invite you to join our community built on support and encouragement. We’d also love to help you fuel your growth with a nutrient-dense, delicious breakfast each morning.
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About Oats Overnight
Enjoy the benefits of eating breakfast with none of the work. Overnight oatmeal loaded with superfoods like flax, chia, maca root, and 20g+ of protein. No recipes needed. Life Is Hard, Make Breakfast Easy.