Is imposter syndrome actually a good thing?

By Gemma Church
Freelance Writer

Freelance writer who specialises in business, technology and science.

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Do you hear that little voice? The one telling you that your work sucks, your pitch stinks and you’re going to be unmasked as a fraud any second now?

You’re not alone. According to research by the Behavioral Science Research Institute, more than two thirds of people are plagued by those same nagging doubts, which are collectively known as imposter syndrome. Sufferers are convinced they don’t deserve to be taken seriously, cannot accept their own accomplishments and fall prey to self-doubt, despite any external evidence to the contrary.

Imposter syndrome can hit anyone at any stage in their career. Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou once said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”

Why do I feel lke an imposter?

Several experts believe your previous life experiences could leave you susceptible to imposter feelings, whereas others think it is associated with certain personality traits like perfectionism.

However, freelancers may be particularly at risk from imposter syndrome. First, we tend to work alone and outside of a conventional work dynamic where success is routinely recognised and rewarded. There are no regular personal development meetings, bonuses or a pat on the back from a satisfied boss, for example.

Second, the lack of consistency could (falsely) lead you to believe you’ve achieved something simply because you were in the right place, at the right time. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve thought ‘wow, that was lucky’ rather than recognise a winning pitch as an indication of my own talent as a writer.

Lastly, freelancing is a competitive business. No matter what industry you work in, you have to regularly fight for your corner of the market and upskill to make sure you stay ahead of the pack. This may leave you working outside of your comfort zone and unrealistically comparing yourself to others in your field, exacerbating the feeling that you’re simply not good enough.

How to embrace your inner imposter

Could Imposter Syndrome ever be seen as a positive as a freelancer? Here are some reasons why it could be a good thing for you and your work:

  • You challenge yourself: as a freelancer, you have to constantly push yourself to keep your skills relevant and stand out from the crowd. This means you will have to continually work in new ways. It’s only natural to feel uncomfortable when you try something new and to feel like a bit of an imposter. But adapting your skills and taking on new challenges is a necessity to survive and thrive as a freelancer.
  • You’re modest and grateful: if you suffer from imposter syndrome, you’re unlikely to have an overinflated ego and to take your work for granted. Such humility is vital for any freelancer where complacency could, ultimately, lead to your failure.
  • You’re experienced: some experts believe that imposter syndrome arises because you are simply more accomplished at what you do. In other words, as you learn more and hone your craft, you become more critical of your work as you push for perfection.

Ignore the trolls. Focus on your positive feedback, rewarding yourself when you’ve done great work and focusing on the value you bring to your clients.

Dealing with imposter syndrome

If imposter Syndrome does negatively impact your work, here are a few ways to help you manage it:

  • Get some support: find sources of encouragement. This may be your family, friends, mentors or a freelancer society. You could connect with a local freelance group, co-working space or find an online community, for example.
  • Stop comparing: newsflash: you’re not the perfect freelancer – no one is. So, stop comparing yourself to others, particularly through the distorted lens of social media.
  • Embrace discomfort: if someone asks you to do something that scares you, do it. I often get asked to do radio interviews and give presentations. At first, imposter syndrome nearly overcame me as I didn’t feel qualified to talk about the topics people thought I was an expert in. Now, I’m far more comfortable with public speaking and sharing my knowledge.
  • Stay true to yourself: however, if someone does ask you to do something way out of your remit, then tell them you don’t have the skill set and (if possible) recommend someone else.
  • Focus on the positives: everyone’s a critic and, in our online times, it’s very easy for people to slate you from the comfort of their keyboard. Ignore the trolls and such negativity. Instead, focus on your positive reviews and feedback, rewarding yourself when you’ve done great work and focusing on the value you bring to your clients.

So, is imposter syndrome a good thing for freelancers? While it can provide you with a competitive edge, don’t let it take you over.

Every time that voice in your head starts to fill you with self-doubt, remember this: there’s nowhere to hide when freelancing, where your work is a testament to your success. A real imposter wouldn’t last five minutes as a freelancer.

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