You have that one friend who gets it all done. All of it. The classic overachiever.
Everybody knows that she’ll win the awards, earn the degrees, chair the committee, keep an immaculate home, and get the raise. All the while smiling and keeping fit enough to wear super sharp clothes.
She’s good at everything and looks good while she’s at it.
And secretly, she’s a wreck. Being an overachiever is exhausting work and her drive isn’t fueled by superhuman motivation or divine inner strength. It’s good old-fashioned anxiety.
She’s a classic anxious overachiever. She’s afraid she really isn’t good enough, smart enough, strong enough. And if she doesn’t keep moving someone will find her out.
Experts have a name for it. Imposter syndrome.
Can you relate?
The Anxious Overachiever and Imposter Syndrome
- Was your business idea just good timing?
- Is your wealth just a lucky break?
- Does that promotion really reflect how good you are at your job or is it simply that your boss thinks more of you than he should?
Impostor syndrome puts a name to the inner turmoil many successful people feel at not being able to enjoy, embrace, or accept their own successes.
If you cope with this syndrome, you might experience life on a continuum of self-doubt and even self-loathing regarding your accomplishments. Even despite solid, positive evidence of your strengths, talents, competencies, and leadership.
You may be routinely plagued by thoughts that you’re a fraud and don’t actually deserve the good fortune and benefits that accompany your achievements. Worse, you may even engage in some measure of self-sabotage to compensate for the success you feel is undeserved.
The Anxious Overachiever and Self-Sabotage
Sadly, many overachievers allow their feelings of self-doubt and worry to fester and grow. Unprocessed and unexplored, this sense of phoniness and inauthenticity exacerbates a need to balance things out.
Amid the overachieving, you might simultaneously engage in behavior that undermines your success or directs attention away from yourself. You may throw yourself into people pleasing, excessive diligence, procrastination, even hiding your qualifications or capabilities and negating any incoming praise.
In addition, anxious overachievers tend to ride themselves with merciless self-talk.
Inner criticism and reflection on mistakes are constant. So much so that many an overachiever resists trying areas of business, less certain realms of work, or any new experience for fear that they won’t be as successful. Staying stuck then fulfills their own self-doubt.
All the while, they continue to climb the ladder of certain success in hopes of someday feeling worthy of the accolades. Hoping sometime to be at peace and content with what they have to offer their loved ones, workplace, and communities.
Unfortunately, relentless drive and crossed fingers won’t make you feel worthy or quell your anxiety. However, there are steps you can take to interrupt and challenge the effect being an overachiever with imposter syndrome has on you and your life.
5 Steps to Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
What can you do to deal with your fear of being discovered as an imposter, or of letting yourself down?
Consider these helpful steps for coping with and overcoming impostor syndrome:
1) Identify problematic thought patterns
Anxious thoughts often race in and out without being challenged. And, sometimes we can’t believe everything we think!
Slow things down, breathe.
Become aware of and identify thoughts that support the false notion that you are an undeserving imposter. Just noticing and naming them will help you feel more in control and able to choose whether to indulge them. Research indicates that naming our troubling emotions (anxiety, embarrassment, shame) helps reduce them. Noticing the thoughts that lead to upsetting emotions can help you pinpoint which thoughts you might need to challenge.
2) Acknowledge your own abilities and achievements
You accept responsibility for your losses and mistakes, right? Well, give your wins equal treatment. To maintain a balanced view, simply list the things you do well and list those that need improvement.
If you’re so used to dwelling on your perfectly human faults rather than your strengths that you can’t list your positive traits and successes, or you explain your successes away, try to find a pattern of positive comments you’ve received from others over the years. Have teachers, coaches, supervisors, friends, or others noticed the same things? Challenge yourself to believe them.
3) Assign yourself value appropriately
When certain tasks or skills come easily, you may think the right and humble thing to do is downplay your abilities. Sometimes indulging imposter syndrome seems like a healthy dose of humility. However, recognize that humility is not rooted in self-deprecation or fear.
True humility is an accurate, honest, balanced appraisal of yourself. You know how you think about your best friend or favorite boss? You know them pretty well, and you admire them for their strengths. You also know their blind spots and weaknesses, but you think well of them anyway, and dwell on all the reasons you like them. Just treat yourself the same way.
4) Focus on your contribution, not comparisons or perfection
Recognize that what you bring to the table is enough. Whether your contribution is perfect, fully formed or comparable to the guy’s in the seat next to you is immaterial. Someone once said that we seem to compare our worst self with everybody else’s best self. But the only healthy way to set goals for growth, change, and performance is to compare yourself to where you’ve been, and set goals for where you’re going.
Now, I know some environments are competitive. In fact, I’ve done straight commission sales and competed in sports, and I know that sometimes we set goals to compete against others. But the best way to be competitive is to create a plan of growth and performance that is based on that honest appraisal of ourselves, weaknesses to train, and strengths to utilize.
No one is perfect. No one knows it all. Your piece of the puzzle may be perfect for the moment. Your bit of knowledge may help it all come together. Focus on being a helpful and positive part of your family and community. You’ll find it much more satisfying.
5) Keep sharing what you know
One of the simplest tactics for overcoming impostor syndrome? Intentionally teach and guide others. Your success indicates that you know more than you may be giving yourself credit for. Is there someone you could mentor? Maybe even someone who seems a little anxious and could use some help with a balanced self-assessment?
Allowing others to benefit from your expertise may help you acknowledge the value and reality of what you have to offer those around you.
Anxious Overachievers Have Trouble Asking for Help
If you identify with feeling the need to keep striving so that none of the plates you’re spinning in the air will fall, you probably scrutinize yourself on a daily basis, judging yourself throughout the day. But sometimes it’s hard to see yourself clearly.
Talk to someone you trust. Someone authentic, who accepts him- or herself, warts and all, and who doesn’t mind being real. Maybe this is a good friend or relative, a pastor, or a teacher. Or, an objective, confidential, professional counselor. Talking to someone objective and down to earth can help you calm down and safely sift through your thoughts and worries.
Together, face your fears about being a fraud and move forward. Encouraged, you can be authentically you. You’re unique. The world doesn’t need any more knock-offs. It needs you, being you.