I recently got a big promotion at work. I was initially thrilled, excited to take on new challenges and nearly ecstatic about this clear vote of confidence in my work and my value to the company. The high lasted all of 3 seconds, quickly replaced by an all-too-familiar feeling of inadequacy and dread.
You know you’re not nearly as capable as they think you are. You keep managing to fool them, but how much longer can it last? Don’t screw this up or they’re finally going to find you out!
I have been successful throughout my life, yet have regularly struggled with this background fear of imminent failure and humiliating exposure. Back at school, I was certain I would bomb every exam, despite a lifetime of academic achievement. When I began my career at a selective and competitive company, I was convinced everyone else truly belonged, but that I was undeserving of the position. I expected the feeling to fade as I gained seniority and experience, but clearly, it hasn’t.
What is this all about, and how can I put it to rest and finally learn to own my accomplishments?
Dear Feeling Inadequate,
The feelings you describe might be easily confused with simple self-doubt, but they are actually common enough to warrant their own special name. I generally don’t like to diagnose from a distance, but it sounds like you might be suffering from imposter syndrome.
It’s the dirty little secret of high-achievers everywhere. Famous actors, world-renowned writers, high-level executives—countless people we look up to and admire have gone on record as feeling like undeserving frauds just waiting to be exposed.
I assure you, you are in excellent company.