Updated: Dec 16, 2019
You are an intelligent person, can speak more than one language (probably more!), and have had many accomplishments in your life.
Your resume or CV is amazing.
But sometimes you feel like a fraud despite all of your achievements.
What Exactly is a Fraud?
I think this definition works perfectly: a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities. (Thanks to Google for this definition.)
Needless to say, you are not a fraud. You would never deceive others or lie about your accomplishments. But, sometimes you feel like you are not the confident and accomplished person that you appear to be.
If only they knew that I got nervous every time I spoke.
They think I’m smart, but half of the time, I’m just faking it.
If you’ve had thoughts like these join the club; you are NOT alone. I have known many accomplished individuals who live with the fear that someone someday will find out that he or she isn’t as good advertised.
They are constantly waiting to get “found out.”
And, that is a stressful way to live.
With that in mind, let me introduce you to “Impostor Syndrome.”
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is “a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.” (The above definition appears on many websites, so I am unable to credit it to one source.)
In other words, no matter how good you are at life, you don’t feel like you are successful at all. Plus, you are scared that people will soon discover that you are not as “together” as you seem.
Impostor Syndrome affects many successful people, but it can be particularly hard on ESL men and women who are building a life in a country that is not their home country and in a language that is not their native language.
For example, you might find yourself waiting for people to discover that your English skills are not so great...or, that your skills aren't as extraordinary as you thought.
Of course, these things are not true (You CAN speak English, and your skills ARE of value), but you still feel like a fraud.
So, how can you overcome this negative feeling?
Try these Three Effective Ways
1. Stop trying to be perfect.
This advice comes from a recovering perfectionist - myself. If being perfect is your goal, then you will always feel like a failure because no one is perfect. Lower your expectations for yourself just a bit. Just try to be good at what you do.
Unless you are performing a life-sustaining surgery, good is usually good enough most of the time. Sure, there will be times when you want to go the extra mile out of passion for your art or your skill, but you don’t need to operate at that high of a level all of time.
Better yet, allow yourself to fail. Author Michael Law reminds us that...
“Instead of fearing mistakes, remind yourself that there’s plenty to learn from them. If nothing else, you’ll learn that a mistake doesn’t mean the end of the world. In fact, it might be the beginning of a new one.”
I listen to a lot of podcasts by one of my favorite authors Timothy Ferriss. He always asks the people he interviews, “What is your favorite failure that led to success?” I love how he spins the concept of failure into something positive.
What’s even cooler is that every single successful person he interviews - and he interviews some very high-achieving people - answer this question with a powerful story of how they failed at some endeavor, but how that experience changed their life into something even better than before.
Perhaps you have a story like this. I know I do.
2. Talk about your feelings with someone you trust.
If you don’t share your feelings with someone, they will eventually make themselves known one way or another in the form of depression, anger, or another emotion. When you share your negative feelings, you take away their power. And, you don’t feel so alone.
I know that when you are living abroad or away from your close friends, it can be hard to find someone with whom you can get “real.” As I’ve mentioned in other posts, there are sites that can connect you with therapists online or offline if you don’t feel comfortable expressing your feelings with those around you.
Don't underestimate the power of talking with a friend or a professional.
3. Take action.
Impostor Syndrome only gets worse when you avoid moving towards your goals. For example, if getting a degree or starting a business is a goal of yours, what can you do TODAY to move towards that goal? Even taking a small action can make you feel like a superstar.
At the same time, be aware of this: Sometimes those with Imposter Syndrome try to acquire as many accolades, degrees, and achievements as they can in the hopes that once they have these, they will feel less like an imposter.
But it rarely works that way.
Overcoming Impostor Syndrome is an “inside job,” meaning it starts with you and your internal dialog or self-talk. No amount of degrees or letters after your name will overcome a deep-seated feeling that you are not good enough.
So, you might need some real help to break the cycle of self-condemnation (see #2 above).
No Easy Answers
I’ll be honest. There is no easy solution for overcoming Impostor Syndrome, but I have learned this:
Sometimes overcoming self doubt is about making a decision. You make a decision that you are NOT a fraud and that you are intelligent and powerful.
You make a decision that you won’t believe those negative thoughts anymore. You practice ignoring them every time they come into your brain. Then, over time you start to notice that you don’t have those thoughts anymore.
And, if you made it to the end of this article, I’ll tell you another secret that no other ESL coach will probably tell you: If you are seeking temporary relief from Impostor Syndrome, stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). You might know that this is a yoga pose. There is something so simple and powerful in this pose that every time I stand in Mountain Pose, I have no thoughts of being a fraud; I just feel like the strongest version of myself.
Give it a shot, I say. What do you have to lose?