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Imposter Syndrome Part 1: Failure to Toot Your Own Horn

By Andrea Schmitt
Did you just get an A+ and think, “That was pure luck!”  Did you show up for the hockey game despite your stomachache, not play as well as usual and assume, “Any day, they will find out that I shouldn’t have been made captain.” Are you from a foreign country, struggling with the perfect English pronunciation and find yourself thinking, “I do not belong here, my English is just not good enough.” Well, this is imposter syndrome at its best. You feel like a sham, like you don’t belong and fear that others will find out soon, very soon!
The term was coined in 1978 by P. Clance and S. O’Toole (quick math, so 45 years ago) and has been studied ever since. According to them, “Imposter phenomenon is the tendency of high achieving individuals to feel as though their success was not earned and instead is a result of luck or a mistake. Imposters often feel anxiety at the thought of failure or being discovered as a fraud.”
In dictionaries the term “imposter” is defined as a person who dishonestly pretends to be someone else, sometimes even by using a false title or identity in order to deceive others.
Over 70% of people in the US admit that they have experienced imposter syndrome at least once. It is not a psychological disorder, by the way, but a cognitive distortion, which means a negative thinking pattern. You can often find people suffering from this syndrome in high positions. This might include an accomplished hockey team captain, an A+ student or a CEO with degrees, trophies and certificates plastering a whole wall.
Why is imposter syndrome a problem? Well, while having these negative thinking patterns, your body produces a cascade of emotions, and I am not talking about positive ones. These emotions then cause physical sensations in your body that leave you feeling stressed, anxious or insecure.
So, why does this way of thinking happen if you have proof of your success? It is because you don’t attribute the achievement to your own internal efforts but to external efforts like sheer coincidence, a lucky mistake, maybe good connections, a one off or good timing. You might discount praise and focus solely on your deficiencies. The end result? You feel guilty about your success, not intelligent, you fear future success and deny your own abilities. 
Here are some thoughts, characteristics and behaviours that are related to experiencing imposter syndrome. Let’s see which boxes you would tick for yourself:
  • You don’t attribute your achievements to your own efforts
  • You point your achievements to external efforts like sheer coincidence, a lucky mistake, maybe good connections, a one off or good timing
  • You discount praise
  • You focus on your deficiencies 
  • You compare yourself to others and feel “less” 
  • You feel you need to be perfect
  • You underestimate yourself, but overestimate others
  • You feel like you don’t deserve your success
  • You don’t feel intelligent
  • You don’t like compliments
  • After receiving a compliment, you say “Thanks, but…” (you discredit it)
  • You feel embarrassed telling people about your achievements
What makes imposter syndrome while being in a boarding school even more difficult? You don’t have your usual support system near you, like your family and friends from home. You need to prove yourself in this new environment, desire to make a good impression, want people to like you and not be seen as the weird one. You want to belong to Stanstead College but you feel like you don’t. Depending on whether you’re an international or local boarding or day student, other English speakers might sound brilliant to you, foreign students seem so worldly and day students seem to have the best deal with their families nearby. This additional layer can make the syndrome in your Stanstead environment appear or make it worse.
By the way, what is the opposite side of imposter syndrome? It is the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which stands for overconfidence. People who experience this cognitive distortion overestimate their own skills, accomplishments and values. While people with imposter syndrome hate to toot their own horn, overconfident individuals blast their horns non-stop! As often, everything falls on a a scale, and being at either extreme is the problem. A good idea is being around the middle.
In my next newsletter, I will tell you about what might cause imposter syndrome, the different types and how to overcome it.
Don’t want to wait until next month; need some advice now? Then start with my absolute favourite activity. Think about your very personal imposter syndrome area, like academics, sports, relationships etc. Focus on one for the moment and write down all you have achieved so far, big and small. I am sure you will end up with a long list and feel proud of yourself! Keep the list close by, and when the syndrome is about to strike, take it out, and be amazed at yourself!
Wishing you a good week.
Kindly, Andrea
Andrea Schmitt is a life coach specializing in teenage girls and a former Stanstead parent (Jessica Lozano Schmitt 2018). Find out more about her services at https://www.globalgirlcoach.com/ or email andrea@globalgirlcoach.com.