#17: We don't live in a meritocracy.

How to deal with Imposter Syndrome when you're an imposter.

Today, we talk about Imposter Syndrome. Maybe we didn’t earn our successes… but is that such a bad thing?

Art by @Biancartoons

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How do I deal with my Imposter Syndrome?

The conventional wisdom with Imposter Syndrome is that you can combat it with positive self-talk. Tell yourself that you deserve to be where you are—you’re no less worthy than anyone else who shares your position. That’s usually true. But not totally for the reason you’d think.

Here’s what I think that misses: a lot of people get adulation and haven’t earned it in the traditional sense.

We don’t live in a meritocracy. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your success, but that’s bound to create some tension, right? Growing up, we’re taught that to get attention, to be successful by most metrics, you need to prove your worth. And proving your worth usually looks like some quantifiable metric of achievement.

The truth is that this is just one way of finding success, and not necessarily a reliable one.

What nobody wants to say is that sometimes people suffer with Imposter Syndrome because they might not actually be experts in what other people say they’re experts in. They might not actually be very good at what they’re suddenly being lauded as “the best” at. Sometimes they’re adequate people who were in the right place at the right time.

Sometimes Imposter Syndrome is about accepting that life is unfair.

Life’s unfair, and that means will occasionally the scales tip in your balance, even without you doing much. You see this all the time, in every industry. Your sense that you’re not the expert/rockstar/whatever thing everyone says you are might be true.

This isn’t the whole story with Imposter Syndrome though.

Imposter Syndrome is also common in people who’ve been routinely told they’re not enough. Maybe there’s something about their identity that sets them apart, maybe it was a parent who conditioned you to believe that no matter what you do, you need to keep doing more.

So, what’s the solution? For both sets of people the solution is that you get used to it.

It’s to do your due diligence and capitalize on the traction you’re getting where and when you can and using that to better yourself. Strive to become the person that people think you are and pay it forward to the people who are already there, but not enjoying your same success.

Finally, I think it’s also worth noting that in both situations, you might also be battling with a much deeper self-esteem problem that’s only coming into sharper focus now. It’s easier to confront these problems when you’re asking yourself if you deserve X award, or Y job title. It’s a little scarier to realize you think this way about other positive things that you experience, or in your relationships. Pay attention to where else these feelings are coming up. It might be time to start thinking about self-love.