Have you been wanting to start that Etsy shop? Film tutorial videos for YouTube? Start a blog?
Are you paralyzed with fear to do any of those things? You may have purchased that URL, set up a business PayPal account, even started building a website or Etsy shop. Does the thought of telling people that you are selling your creativity give you severe anxiety? Are you procrastinating taking that next step to make your dream of making your side hustle your main gig — and then get depressed because you feel like you'll never achieve that dream?
I assure you, you are not alone. And there is a name for what you may be feeling: Impostor Syndrome.
There are a number of other names for the phenomenon — impostorism, fraud syndrome, impostor experience — but the feelings are the same: the lack of belief that you deserve success or that any recognition you receive isn't deserved or is the product of "luck."
The phenomenon was named in 1978 by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes in their article The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention. The two doctors defined impostor syndrome as "an individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness/fraud" after interviewing 150 high-achieving women.
In their research, Clance and Imes found that even though these women received significant accolades for their achievements, they attributed their success to luck and that their supporters were over estimating their contributions and intellect.
What leads to this self-doubt when others recognize success? The 1978 study recognized many factors, including gender stereotypes, family background and dynamics, and culture.
This feeling of being a fraud — and the related fear of being "found out" — can lead to depression, anxiety, and low self-confidence. Oh, and rumination...which is a fancy word for overthinking (sound familiar?).
While at first, researchers believed the concept of impostor syndrome was seen more frequently in women, more recent studies have shown that it is seen equally in men and women.
Let me share a personal story, not based in any fancy research by PhDs.
I launched StitchLife on a whim in early 2020, in response to a post in a Facebook group for cross stitchers. No shit. It was truly me opening my big mouth (or, in this case, typing with my big fingers) and connecting with others who thought it was a decent idea.
From the end of January to the end of February, when we released the first issue, I didn't have time to think about what I was jumping into. Then I was about to press SEND on the email with the first issue. My body went stiff and numb at the same time. What the fuck are you doing? my brain said to me. Who are you to think you can write a magazine about cross stitching? You don't even know what frogging is or how to do the loop start. You are a fake!
Seriously, that's what I said to myself. Even though I started my career working for a well-known business magazine in NYC, I had been stitching on-and-off for 40 years, and I was the VP of marketing and communications at a tech company...I still felt like a fraud and that by putting myself out there, everyone was going to see that this emporor had on no clothes.
I then recognized that this self-doubt was impostor syndrome — and, like other emotional battles, it was more common than I knew. In fact, some studies suggest that as many as 70% of adults in the workforce have, at one time or another, experienced some level of impostor syndrome.
Let me take the time to point out that although common and sometimes situational, impostor syndrome is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or International Classification of Diseases, literally the books on classifying and categorizing mental health disorders and diseases. In my research, I wasn't able to come up with a solid answer to why but I wanted to make this point.
And since impostor syndrome can be situational — meaning you may not have the phenomenon in some areas of your life but experience it in others — it can sometimes sneak up on you.
As I mentioned earlier, in my "real" life I am a marketing boss lady. I have been working in marketing in some form for my entire professional career (more than 25 years!) and there are rarely times when I feel like a fraud at work. I may diminish my contributions to a successful work project, but I don't sit in meetings or give presentations and feel less than, if that makes sense.
But in my side hustle, StitchLife, I often feel that I don't have the qualifications that others do. And while I had already committed to the magazine, I knew that I had to create videos and share tips and techniques...and I still feel like I have no business doing that.
I feel like I have to be perfect and know everything about cross stitch in order to be a contributing member of the community and live up to the role I created for myself as the founder of StitchLife.
As cliche as it seems, recognizing that you experience some level of impostor syndrome — and knowing that others are likely feeling similar feelings — is the first step to managing it.
I've read a lot about techniques to help you realize and acknowledge your worth and value and my biggest takeaway is that opening up about your feelings to people you trust can go a long way. Whether you find a mentor or a partner, surrounding yourself with positive support can help you recognize your accomplishments and enjoy your success.
Sources: Wikipedia, apa.org, time.com, businessinsider.com. Illustration courtesy of medium.com