By Robert Tiger FCAS, MAAA
“Imposter syndrome is the providence of the successful, of the high achievers, of the perfectionists. That’s the irony.” – Katie Hilton
At some point, you may have asked yourself “what am I doing here?” Or thought “I don’t belong.” Or told yourself, “I’ll fake it until I make it.”
You are not alone. According to a 2019 review of over 60 studies, up to as many as 82% of respondents reported having thoughts along these lines. “Imposter Syndrome” is a very real and can affect anyone in any profession from entry level to the executive suite.
Imposter Syndrome is characterized by feelings of self-doubt – your accomplishments are nothing more than the product of good timing and sheer luck. As a result, you pressure yourself into working harder for fear someone will discover you as a fraud, holding yourself to unrealistic and unsustainable standards.
Below are 5 different types of Imposter Syndrome and some tips on how to beat them:
You think anyone who’s excellent at their job never makes a mistake. If you do 100 things and 99 of them are right, you consider that a failure and beat yourself up for the one thing you did wrong.
Focus on and celebrate all that you did accomplish and take your mistakes in stride, viewing them as a natural part of the process. You’re never going to be 100% perfect 100% of the time; the sooner you accept that, the better.
You measure competence based on how many roles you can both juggle and excel in, where falling short in any one of them means you failed. You’re supposed to be able to do everything everywhere, all at once and may very well be addicted to the validation that comes from how much you’re working rather than the work itself.
Don’t let anyone have more power than you to make yourself feel good – yes, we all want to do well on our performance evaluations, but if you feel good about yourself and become more attuned to internal validation, you’ll be able to set more reasonable expectations for yourself and the rest should follow suit.
The Natural Genius
Everything should come quickly and easily to you; when it doesn’t, there must be something wrong. You expect to be able to bang out a masterpiece the first time out, setting a ridiculously high bar for yourself which is almost impossible for anyone to meet, let alone consistently.
You are a work in progress, and your accomplishments involve lifelong learning and skill-building. Try to identify specific, changeable behaviors you can improve over time rather than beating yourself up when you don’t reach your impossibly high standards.
You measure success by who does the work, which must be you and only you. You need to be able to figure everything out on your own, because needing ad/or asking for help means you’ve failed.
There is no shame in asking for help; typically, the only bad question is the one that goes unasked.
You expect yourself to know everything and have all the answers; if you don’t then you must not be smart enough. You may shy away from new assignments or projects for fear that you don’t/won’t know enough to be ablet to do it.
While there’s always going to be more to learn, endlessly seeking out more information can actually be a form of procrastination. Instead, practice “just-in-time” learning, acquire the skills you need when you need them – rather than hoarding knowledge for (false) comfort. Mentoring junior colleagues can also bolster confidence in yourself (and helps them too!).
To overcome the Imposter Syndrome, you must first stop thinking like an imposter. Start accepting and embracing your capabilities and giving yourself the credit, you’ve earned. As Denis Wailey put it, “It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.”
Robert Tiger has worked in the insurance industry for over 25 years as an actuary in various pricing, reserving, and forecasting roles. He is a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and a Member of the American Academy of Actuaries. He currently is an AVP and P&C Actuary at American National Insurance Company and lives in the Albany, NY area.
This article was submitted with Robert’s permission by Linda Grayless DAE, CPIW, ACS, API, AINS, AIS, SCM. Linda works for American National Insurance Company and is Region V Education Director and serves on the Education Task Force, Marketing & Publications Task Force, and is a Board Member of the NAIW Legacy Foundation.