Many can attest to increasing social anxiety amongst the younger generation, and its interactions with imposter syndrome can create a disastrous path – especially in the workforce.
And that’s where catchy phrases of reassurance are sprinkled.
The grass is greener on the other side.
Fake it till you make it.
It is what it is.
But the impact these statements have on people struggling with imposter syndrome is instead a negative effect. It’s time we reframe our outlook, and here’s why.
More harm done
Imposter syndrome pivots off self-doubt and taxes self-esteem levels regardless of how many achievements an individual has. Because of this, the same cliches or typical forms of comfort don’t always apply to imposter syndrome.
The average person can embellish their accomplishments, and this extends beyond the workplace. Raising children successfully, milestones in sports, academic achievements, and an amalgamation of other everyday life experiences can tangle with imposter syndrome.
“Language plays a vital role in triggering and managing Imposter Syndrome. Not just the way we speak to ourselves (which is the most important) but the way others speak to us and the language we hear in the environments we sit in,” said Imposter Syndrome Expert and Coach Alison Shamir.
While these clichés intend to be in good faith, the core messaging implies dismissiveness of the current situation and failure to address the real problem. It’s also unhelpful advice because of how generalized they are.
“These statements often make people feel like they have to conform to outdated models of competency, stereotypes or ‘profiles’ of what people in their role ‘should be like,’ said Shamir.
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Reframing the problem
Let’s delve into how we can reframe these phrases to tackle the underlying problem of imposter syndrome.
This cliché is commonly used to convey that things appear better or more desirable in a different situation or circumstance. This expression itself isn’t inherently problematic, but it’s used too commonly to oversimplify complex problems.
“There are times when comparison can be healthy . . . and using that to motivate themselves to achieve more is healthy ambition.
“But if the comparison leads to negative self-talk, then it’s self-sabotage and will perpetuate the feelings of imposter syndrome,” said Shamir.
The phrase also drifts away from what is realistic.
While the grass may be greener on the other side, it won’t necessarily be perfect. Individuals with imposter syndrome will still fault themselves, and tackling the root cause is far more important.
Instead, we should say, “The grass is greener where you water it.”
Siezing significant opportunities should be encouraged.
It takes courage and confidence to embrace an opportunity that removes you from a comfort zone; it creates growth.
But this phrase has its problems.
“This phrase can create a sense of urgency and pressure to seize every opportunity, regardless of readiness or fit.
“The fear of missing out can lead individuals to overextend themselves or feel inadequate when they pass on opportunities and this can send Imposter Syndrome into overdrive,” Shamir said.
The cliché might also undermine the importance of perseverance and resilience. Some opportunities may not work out the first time, but that doesn’t mean similar or better avenues won’t emerge through continued effort.
And if we jump back to a workplace perspective, it will easily exacerbate feelings of imposter syndrome by assuming a deterministic view. Take this phrase as a reminder to be attentive and proactive, rather than implying scarcity and adding unnecessary pressure.
A more sensible approach might be, “Embrace opportunities, but stay open to growth and remain persistent.”
Some people are naturally instilled with charismatic personalities, greater emotional intelligence, and decision-making skills. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be taught.
Many leadership qualities are acquired through experience and mentorship from others in leadership positions. This not only ostracizes people who desire to be in leadership positions, but also creates self-doubt amongst current leaders – especially if they have imposter syndrome.
“We know that certain personality traits are not ‘natural for leaders’. For example, you don’t need to be an extrovert to be a good leader.
“Using this phrase can be detrimental to someone striving to improve their leadership skills and even be demoralizing as it feeds into the belief that they are inherently unfit for leadership roles,” Shamir explained.
The phrase blatantly ignores and overlooks development that people can make over time to become a leader. Whether it be in the office, a sports team, a family, community organizations, or whatever it may be, leaders can be developed with dedicated effort.
“Leadership can be cultivated – made, not just born.”
“Fake it till you make it.”
Arguably, the most damaging phrase for those experiencing imposter syndrome is fake it till you make it. The syndrome already implies that people feel like ‘fakes’ or ‘frauds,’ and their achievements aren’t valid, or they simply got lucky.
Shamir explains that it’s training your brain to believe your accomplishments aren’t genuine, and consequently you discount the actions taken to get there despite evidence of competence.
Telling yourself to ‘fake it through’ implies you don’t have the necessary skills and you neglect all the wins.
A simple yet effective change would be, “Brave it till you make it,’ said Shamir.
Learn more about Imposter Syndrome from Alison Shamir.