Imposter Syndrome: are millennials fighting a losing battle?

Feeling like a fraud is a customary millennial worry. It is that niggling voice of self-doubt that says, ‘you don’t deserve this’ and ‘everything in your life is about to self-destruct’. It is that pang of guilt when you succeed and that fear of being found out. And these afflictions have a name—Impostor Syndrome!

As a syndrome with many symptoms, it can be difficult to diagnose. However, if you doubt your talents and can’t internalise success—you may well have a case of Imposter Syndrome. The good news? Most of us do too. According to Forbes Magazine, ‘seventy per cent of young people experience Imposter Syndrome’. Yes, it bears repeating, Impostor Syndrome is experienced by most young people. From high achievers to ordinary people, Imposter Syndrome doesn’t discriminate.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, the co-founder of software company Atlassian claims, Impostor Syndrome ‘does not go away with any form of success. I had assumed successful people didn’t feel like frauds, and now I know the opposite is more likely to be true.’

But why do millennials feel the effects of Imposter Syndrome more than other demographics? Well, there are many reasons; the most obvious being social media. Technology has pushed us into what journalist Amar Singh has dubbed an ‘Age of Comparison’. ‘With the amount of information available at your fingertips’, Singh describes, ‘it has never been easier to compare yourself to others.’

With LinkedIn reminding us of all the internships we haven’t done and Instagram reminding us of all the holidays we didn’t go on, it is no wonder that we have been dubbed ‘Generation Stress’.

When online, our thought patterns follow a self-effacing routine: ‘I may be strong, but she is stronger; I may be smart, but she is more so’, and so on and so forth. But it is a humbling thought that the person you are comparing yourself to, statistically speaking, probably feels like an impostor also.

Another reason for the prevalence of Impostor Syndrome in millennials is how we were brought up. “Millennials are members of the trophy generation,” Forbes magazine explains, “raised by parents who send mixed messages—alternating between over-praise and criticism.” Mixed messages increase feelings of fraudulence and feeling that you have something to prove. This isn’t at all surprising. If you kicked a dog and then gave it some kibble, it would probably be a bit confused.

There are, thankfully, some ways that Impostor Syndrome can be combatted. Begin by acknowledging that these feelings are there and are real to you: Impostor Syndrome is a two-sided fear, both of success and of failure.

From this, it may be helpful to document your successes, either by handwriting them or keeping a note on your phone. Start attributing your accomplishments to your talents and hard work rather than to lucky flukes or happy coincidences. An occasional dose of self-congratulations can work wonders for self-confidence.

Another suggestion from Cannon-Brookes is to “stop questioning yourself and to start questioning your ideas.” Put into real terms, start using feedback as a criticism of your work, not of you. Learn how to harness criticism as a learning opportunity — whether that be in your academic, work or in social life. The world of work is a critical place, so it is best to build your resilience here and now before you enter it.

When we remember that failure isn’t a lack of success, it is part of success, we can stop fearing fraudulence and start celebrating achievement. And if that doesn’t work, find solace in billionaire Cannon-Brookes’s words, “most days I often don’t know what I’m doing.”

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