“And now,” said the man, “it’s the moment of truth. You have proven yourself to be quite valuable. How would you feel about a promotion? We want to make you a client manager—a position that will give you great exposure to all upper managers, to some of our most important customers and, not the least, will give you a good salary bump. Congratulations, well deserved!”
“Uhm,” replied the woman. “Wow. Thank you. I have a couple of questions, though. Are you really sure? And can I think about it?” Her inner voice, though, was shouting, “What’s wrong with you, seriously?!”
The man, too, looked at her as if she had just torn up a winning lottery ticket.
No, this is not the plot of a novel. The man was my manager. I left his office several months ago convinced that I had either just witnessed a case of an irrational-spirit possession or that I was going through a sudden-onset midlife crisis. That person back there definitely didn’t seem to be me.
After some intense rumination, I kind of had the answers to my puzzling behavior. The easiest realization was that for an introvert, a career bump that entails high visibility and chatting with clients all day long would be exhausting and require lots of advance mental preparation. I recognized that some of my holding back came from my correct gut reaction that the work would be a bad fit with my personality.
The bigger part of my hesitation, though, came from a concoction of other complex sensations I couldn’t quite grasp: that I didn’t deserve the accolades, that I would probably disappoint my manager because I didn’t have all the skills he believed I did, and that everyone would soon discover that I was not the type-A personality that I’d learned to play so well over the years. Simply put, I felt like an undercover spy in a movie who was just about to be discovered and publicly vilified.
It turns out that these emotions have a name—phoniness, aka, impostor syndrome. It’s a term that describes the feeling of not belonging—we are a fraud who will soon be “found out.”
Impostor syndrome was first introduced in the 1970s by two clinical psychologists: Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Their research showed that the phenomenon predominantly affected high-achievers and women. Later research discovered that men, too, are not immune to these unsettling emotions.
Feeling like a fake can be rather daunting—and (perhaps surprisingly) quite widespread. According to research, about 70 percent of the general population have experienced feelings of phoniness at some point in their careers. Other impacted demographic groups, studies tell us, are African-Americans, graduate students, first-generation immigrants or their children, or those who begin endeavors with which they have no prior experience. These are the individuals who are either under very high pressure and expectations to perform or who don’t fit mainstream societal notions. Like introverts.
Although the original findings about impostorism mostly relate to the belief that others have inflated opinions of our abilities, introverts can sometimes feel a bit like scammers too.
Here are a few reasons why:
Luckily, as scientists have discovered, the persistent feeling of being a fraud is not a personality trait. It is not hard-coded in our characters and can therefore be changed.
Here are my personal remedies for combating impostor syndrome:
Finally, know that you are worth it—according to an overwhelming body of research, introverts are genetically predisposed to become wise, respected, and reputable decision-makers, managers, and idea-generators. Don’t let opportunities slip away if they are the right fit for you. At the end of the day, we all belong exactly where our ambitions, motivation, persistence, and skills take us. These are also some of the quiet powers that are woven into the fabric of our very characters as introverts.