Ever Feel Like a Fake? Here’s How To Fix It

“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:

  • Because we often have to play the role of extrovert, many of us tend to see ourselves as inauthentic. Achieving success and recognition is an extension of these emotions. That is, we may attribute achievements to our “outer extrovert,” believing it’s this made-up persona who is rewarded—not the introvert hiding on the inside. We fear that others will soon discover that it was all an act—that we are not as outgoing, chatty, and sociable as we may appear—and the praise will cease.
  • The societal bias toward extroverts has long nurtured the feeling that introverts somehow don’t belong or fit in with the modern description of “success.” Because many of us have a long history of being neglected and passed over for promotions, when recognition finally comes, it can be perceived as unreal and undeserving. Thus, when applauded, we experience unease—as if the praise is a mistake that will soon be exposed or as if the acknowledgement was given to us only out of compassion, not competence, and even maybe as a part of an unwritten quota. Such beliefs rob us of the opportunity to fully experience the joys of acclaim for work well done.
  • Also because of the “extrovert ideal,” we may feel that success and appreciation are a result of luck or “good timing” rather than of our own abilities and hard work.
  • Even if we recognize that we have certain valuable skills or that we are, on average, more qualified than many of our coworkers, we may still be rather anxious about attracting additional attention by accepting the spotlight that comes with promotion. We may not want the public acclaim or the different responsibilities, especially if they come with fewer opportunities for quiet time and requirements to be more “out there.”
  • These emotions behind impostor syndrome may turn out to be quite dangerous and even self-sabotaging. They can lead to anxiety and depression and can be linked to the so-called Jonah complex, which is a fear of success and of the realization of one’s potential. Simply put, impostorism can hinder not only our professional growth but our personal as well.

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:

  • Recall positive accomplishments and feedback—these will help shift focus to your strengths and abilities, to relive your victories, and to make you feel in control over your outcomes. Allow yourself to feel pride.
  • Take ownership of your successes—actualized individuals (think Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling, and Warren Buffet) didn’t get where they are by chance. They are all unique and talented and worked hard for their successes. And not despite—but because of—their introversion, they became the thinkers, innovators, and the shapers of tomorrow. So give yourself some credit.
  • Build a strong support system—surround yourself with similar others (i.e., professionals who are also introverts) to exchange experiences and opinions. Knowing that you may not be alone in your feelings can give you strength, help you see yourself more objectively through the eyes of fellow peers, and bring back the confidence in your own intelligence and competencies. In other words, go find some pals.
  • Remember that, although slowly, the world is changingintroverts nowadays are less and less willing to pretend to be extroverts just to be accepted. We feel more gratified and comfortable being in our own shells. Such positive emotions will work to diminish the perceived lack of authenticity.

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.