We’ve all been there…
“Today I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999,” said Natalie Portman at a recent Harvard Commencement address. “I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress.”
Apart from serial narcissists, no one is immune to self-doubt or the fear of failure that fuels it. Likewise both men and women can suffer from what psychologists have dubbed the Imposter Syndrome, when we fear being uncovered as a fraud, unworthy of our success.
But whether we’re just more open about it than the fellas, it’s seems women struggle with it far more than men.
The reason is simple: we women have refined self-criticism to an art form. We second-guess ourselves more, back ourselves less and are far more inclined to attribute our successes to a lucky break or helping hand over our brains, brawn or grit compared to men. All of which makes us feel less deserving of success (including power and admiration) and more anxious as we await everyone to wisen up to the fact that we aren’t as smart or talented or deserving or experienced or (fill in the blank) as they had thought.
I’ve felt that way myself many times. Most often when I’m about to do something where I risk being ‘uncovered.’ Like giving a speech. “This is it,” cries Debbie Downer in my head. “The charade’s over. They’re about to see you aren’t so clever after all.” Of course I’ve learnt to get on with it anyway, despite my doubts, aware that if I let them run the show I’d still be living with my parents.
Check out Natalie’s speech on Imposter Syndrome. Post continues after video.
At the core of Imposter Syndrome lies a deep fear of our own worthiness. To counter it many women set the bar ‘super-woman’ high. So high that it’s near impossible to get over, even with a cape (During her first year at Harvard Portman enrolled in neurobiology and advanced Hebrew literature). Which is why conquering Impostor Syndrome requires accepting that we don’t have to attain perfection or Da Vinci-like mastery to be worthy of admiration, promotion, power, love, or for that matter, anything we really want in life.