As millennials, we all want to accomplish something important and make a real difference in the world. We all want to become wildly successful. We all want to be remembered for our achievements. Right?
But wait — if that’s the case, why is it that oftentimes the closer we get to our goals, the more discomfort we experience? Why is it that for many of us, our accomplishments are accompanied by the sinking feeling that we don’t deserve them?
In this article, we’ll discuss the Imposter Phenomenon (also known as “IP” or “Imposter Syndrome”) and how it affects millennials in the workplace today. We’ll talk about some well-known, highly accomplished individuals who’ve spoken openly about their experiences with IP, dig into the ways it typically manifests, and ultimately suggest some ways to combat it. Let’s dive in!
The term “Imposter Phenomenon” was coined by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in the late 1970s as a way of describing the feeling that one’s successes are undeserved and fraudulent. It usually manifests as a response to a significant accomplishment in a person’s life.
Originally the term was applied specifically to high-achieving women, but eventually they found the problem to be much broader in scope. In reality, folks of any gender and any age can experience the imposter phenomenon.
People who deal with IP feel that they’re faking it, and that they’re bound to be exposed as a fraud. When they accomplish something great, they find ways to invalidate themselves, chalking their successes up to luck rather than skill. Some incredible people have experienced IP, including the renowned poet, author, and activist Maya Angelou. Angelou once said in an interview,
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now.’ I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”
Angelou’s quote illustrates one of the most troubling things about Imposter Syndrome: no matter how much evidence a person gathers to support the fact that their accomplishments aren’t simply a result of good luck, the feelings of fraudulence persist. Unless you actively work to combat it (we’ll get to that soon), IP can persist indefinitely.
It’s been said that women are more likely to experience IP than men, which makes sense given that women are conditioned to doubt their own intelligence and abilities much more than men. In other words, many women have a predisposition to the imposter mentality.
Again, any person of any gender can experience imposter syndrome under the right circumstances. That said, many sources are claiming that millennials are significantly more prone to imposter syndrome than previous generations. But why?
Millennials are often referred to as the “Stress Generation” because we experience higher rates of depression, stress, and anxiety than any generation before us.
We were raised and socialized to believe that we’re unique, and that our personal story matters. We’ve been told we have the power, or even responsibility, to make something of ourselves and make a difference in the world. In many ways these ideas are very positive, but they result in feelings of intense pressure to live up to others’ expectations.
Millennials are also the first generation to have grown up with technology at the center of our lives. This has made it easier than ever to constantly compare ourselves to others, contributing to the perception that we are never good enough. This tendency to compare, as well as the superficial nature of many interactions that take place on social media, make it even more difficult for millennials to develop a strong sense of self-worth.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram can add a decent amount of fuel to the imposter fire. We’re already so concerned about making something of ourselves, and living a story worth telling. Spending too much time assessing other people’s internet presence (and strategically crafting our own) can be detrimental to our self-esteem and heighten feelings of fraudulence.
If you’re experiencing some of the feelings we’ve outlined in this article, it’s possible that you’ve fallen prey to the imposter phenomenon. Consider using the three techniques below to reclaim your confidence and rebuild your authentic sense of self — and most importantly, remember you’re not alone!
Social media platforms allow us to craft the image of ourselves we want the world to see, and prompt us to compare our digital self-presentation to that of our peers and role models. This activity is incredibly damaging for folks who are experiencing IP. Set social media aside for a while and focus on the real-life conditions of the people in your life (and that includes you)!
When you accomplish something significant, take the time to celebrate and recall all the effort you personally put into making it a reality. Go out with your friends! Pop open a bottle of champagne! Open a journal and write out all the work it took you to get to where you are now. Do whatever you have to do to feel personally validated, so that you can truly own your accomplishments.
Odds are you could throw a stone and hit someone else who’s struggling with feelings of self-doubt and anxiety in their career — whether they call it “Imposter Syndrome” or not. When you’re feeling particularly isolated, open up a conversation with a friend or colleague about the struggles you’re having. Sometimes a reminder that you’re not alone in your experience can be enough to get you out of a rut!