If you think you're not good enough, you can join the club, because many women experience impostor syndrome. But, contrary to popular belief, it turns out that a little self-doubt isn't such a bad thing after all.
Tara Sutton is an award-winning war correspondent and documentary filmmaker from Toronto. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York's Columbia University, and she was the first foreign reporter to enter Fallujah, Iraq, after the siege in 2004 to document human rights abuses during the Iraq War. She's also given talks all over the world. But, sometimes, Sutton feels like a fraud.
"When I was in Iraq, I was the only video journalist and I was freelancing," says Sutton. "Everybody else had security experts and crews and flak jackets, and I didn't have any of that stuff. I'd lie there at night thinking, You're so useless. You don't know what you're doing. Why are you even here? I always felt so inferior, like I wasn't as qualified as everyone else."
What is it?
Though impostor phenomenon, or impostor syndrome, as it's commonly called, was first identified in 1978 to describe high-achieving people who dismiss, minimize or ignore evidence of their abilities, Sutton only recognized the symptoms in herself after reading an article about it in The New York Times. Since then, high-profile people—from Mike Myers (who famously said, "I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me") to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg—have publicly admitted that they had a problem.
In an article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, research estimates that 70 percent of us will, at least once in our lives, fear being exposed as frauds, no matter how successful we are. "People who feel like impostors have a hard time internalizing and owning their accomplishments and, instead, ascribe them to things like luck, timing, connections or computer error," says Valerie Young, the author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.
These feelings are especially common for students and people in creative fields such as writing, acting and music. "You're judged subjectively and are perceived as being only as good as your last book, film, show or assignment," says Young. "You have to continually prove yourself in ways you wouldn't if you were in an accounting department or in customer service." That self-doubt is also more common among women, minorities and people who grew up poor or working class. "Whenever you're in a group for whom there are stereotypes about competence, you're more susceptible," says Young.
How to make impostor syndrome work for you
Alicia Liu first blogged about her brush with impostor syndrome in 2013, and she has revisited the topic several times since. The Canadian computer programmer, who now lives in San Francisco, wrote about how feeling like a fake made her reluctant to speak up for fear of sounding stupid. "The stakes were even higher because I was the only female engineer on nearly every team I've been on, so I felt I was representing my gender," she wrote. "I quietly avoided doing things I didn't think I'd be good at, even though the only way to get better is to do them." That's one of the problems with impostor syndrome—it can hold you back from learning. It may even make you overprepare, which "leads to unnecessary work and potential burnout," says Liu.
But Pamela Catapia, a registered clinical counsellor in Vancouver, says there can be benefits to feeling this way. "If you have impostor syndrome, you're likely a caring, conscientious, talented person who has both the desire and the capacity to improve the world," she says. She points to her clients as evidence; many of them tell her they feel like impostors, but, for the most part, they're actually extremely competent with unrecognized or underutilized leadership skills.
While Catapia admits that impostor syndrome can lead to procrastination, self-sabotage, anxiety and overwork, she says it is possible to make those feelings work for you. The secret is to recognize the good and the bad of impostor syndrome—and hang on to the good. "If overpreparing for things is working, keep that strategy. But if you're feeling burned out and exhausted, dial it down," she says. Young agrees. "I don't like to hear people say 'stop being a perfectionist,' because that's not helpful. You do things because you're getting something out of it. So I ask people, 'What's the good part about being a perfectionist that you want to keep?' If you care deeply about the quality of your work—not everyone does—keep that part, but let go of any shame you might feel over minor and very human imperfections."
Sutton credits impostor syndrome with helping her become a better journalist, though she didn't realize it at the time. "The benefit of feeling that way is that I asked so many questions. I had no assumptions that I knew what was going on," she says. "It also led me to do a lot more listening than talking."
There are still days when Sutton's self-doubt resurfaces, especially when it comes to public speaking. "Whenever I start to write a speech, I feel like I don't have anything to say. Now I know it's just a feeling, but in the beginning, I believed it was true."
Make peace with your inner critic
Though impostor syndrome can push us to achieve, it can also do more harm than good, leading to anxiety, procrastination and burnout. Here's what to do if the negatives start to outweigh the positives.
1. Know that you're normal
We often assume that struggling with confidence in a new situation is proof that we're impostors, says self-help speaker and author Valerie Young. But those feelings are normal. "Of course you're going to feel off base at first," she says. "If you're starting a new job, instead of thinking, I don't belong here, try, This is going to be hard for a while. This is new for me, and mastering or taking on new things is hard." She adds that, unless you're a narcissist, you should have feelings of self-doubt every now and then. "If it's your first time doing something, you haven't had time to develop the confidence that comes from prior experience."
2. Put it in context
Consider why feelings of inadequacy are there in the first place, says computer programmer Alicia Liu. "It's not merely a personal issue—though impostor syndrome is too often framed as purely personal. For me, it also reflected the discrimination and stereotyping in the tech industry and wider culture." Your own experience may be rooted in childhood or exacerbated by dismissive coworkers or cultural stereotypes. "You need to sort through your beliefs about yourself and your talents and to examine which belong to you and which came from others," says clinical counsellor Pamela Catapia. "Think about the beliefs that protect, guide and encourage you to grow versus the ones that shame and control you and keep you stuck." When you acknowledge how other people's attitudes might be holding you back, it's easier to feel worthy and confident.
3. Change your mind
"If you want to stop feeling like an impostor, you have to stop thinking like one," says Young. "This means reframing the way you think about competence, failure and fear. If you get an assignment that feels beyond you, instead of thinking, I have no idea what I'm doing, the reframe is, Wow! I'm really going to learn a lot," she says. And remember, your body doesn't know the difference between fear and excitement—sweaty palms and a dry throat come from both. "As you're walking to the podium or going to meet with your boss, just keep thinking, I'm excited. The best part is that, over time, you will be."
West Coast Salmon Saltimbocca Credits: Joe Kim
A known source of heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is a dinnertime superstar as it is rich, flavourful and healthy. Expand your salmon dinner repertoire with one of these favourite recipes.
There is nothing quite like salmon skin cooked to crispy perfection. The secret to the crispness is cooking the fish 90 percent of the way through on the skin side (in a nonstick pan!); the key to maintaining it is serving the fish skin side up so that the moisture from the fish and vegetables doesn't turn it soggy.
A handful of stellar ingredients pack a lot of flavour into this heart-healthy weeknight meal. Serve the dish alongside steamed mini potatoes tossed with olive oil and fresh garden herbs.
Everyone has a favourite go-to macaroni casserole, but this Salmon Cheddaroni from our archives might just become your new weeknight comfort meal. An easy bread-crumb topping creates a crispy crust, making every bite as tasty as the last. Serve with steamed vegetables.
A refreshing alternative to beef burgers, this salmon version is flavoured with tangy lemon juice and grainy mustard. For an even lighter dish, replace the sour cream with Greek yogurt.
There are few things more comforting than a bowl of rich, creamy seafood chowder. Sweet, licorice-like fennel naturally complements the seafood. Serve with oyster crackers or crusty bread and a simple green salad for a complete meal.
Nothing makes a tender fillet of salmon more appealing than a crunchy layer of panko. For even cooking, ask for salmon fillets that are all the same size and thickness. Serve with a simple tossed green salad or steamed asparagus.
Chef Gail McCully of Port Alberni, B.C., created this dish, which was the winner of the 2009 Master Garlic Chef cook-off. Port Alberni, the salmon capital of the world, has since adopted this delicious prosciutto-wrapped salmon as the official recipe of the Alberni Valley. Opt for wild-caught salmon if possible for our adaptation of the recipe.
A few fresh ingredients and a bit of flaky salmon give leftover mashed potatoes a tasty new lease on life. Depending on how salty your mashed potatoes are, you might want to add an extra pinch of salt. Serve with a simple green salad for a light lunch or dinner.
Golden, curry-scented kedgeree is a British dish traditionally made with smoked fish and basmati rice. We've borrowed a lot of the same flavours, added some healthful ingredients like kale, and taken a few shortcuts so you can create this dish in only 30 minutes, with minimal effort.
Choose thick skin-on fillets, as they'll hold together on the grill. Be gentle when turning the fish; it's best to use two spatulas, placing one under and one over the fillet.
Serve with hot cooked brown, wild or white rice. If the bok choy are tiny, you'll need two per person. You can use this marinade for other fish fillets, such as white fish, salmon, trout or tilapia, for equally delicious results.
The combination of sweet orange, savoury salmon and fresh herbs makes this pasta salad a tasty, healthful option. If you like, serve smaller portions as a side dish at your next gathering.
A simple mustard vinaigrette is all you need to amp up the fresh flavour of salmon. Currants add a touch of sweetness to the Swiss chard, but you can also use dried cranberries for an extra pop of colour. Chard stems are denser than the leaves, so be sure to cook them for longer.
Bursting with fresh flavours and bright colours, this summery main is a shoo-in for weeknight entertaining. Toast the couscous before cooking for a nice nutty flavour.
Miso paste brings a heady hit of umami to any dish; combined with the rich flavour of salmon, it'll hit dinner out of the park. Use a wide spatula to release the delicate fish from the grill and a pair of tongs to gently turn it.
This speedy yet elegant meal will impress even the most discerning dinner guest. If you can't find baby kale, you can easily substitute baby spinach.
Not all soba noodles are created equal. Check the ingredient list on the package to make sure your noodles have been made with 100 percent buckwheat flour. (Many brands use a mix of buckwheat and regular wheat flour.) Look for gluten-free soba noodles in health food stores.
This updated take on colcannon gets a nutrient boost from kale and substitutes less-starchy cauliflower for some of the traditional white potato. We've used a food processor to create a superfine purée, but you can use a food mill for an even smoother texture.
Grilling the salmon on water-soaked cedar planks infuses it with a delightfully smoky taste, plus the sauce gives it a golden glaze. If you can't do this outside, bake it on planks in a 425°F (220°C) oven for about 12 minutes.
These easy fish cakes are mostly made from ingredients you might have on hand. Fresh bread crumbs and eggs help to hold the cakes together. Make your own fresh bread crumbs by pulsing day-old bread in a food processor until it resembles fine crumbs. Freeze them in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
Warm up to a steaming, fragrant bowl of slow-simmered stew within minutes of stepping through your front door thanks to these five slow cooker stews.
Tangy stuffed olives, fragrant fennel and an herbaceous topping brighten the flavours of this easy chicken stew. Serve over basmati rice to soak up the savoury sauce.
Pancetta, like bacon, is made from cured pork belly. The difference between the two is that pancetta is not generally smoked, giving it a stronger pork flavour. Use thicker pancetta—you can often buy it prechopped—for this stew rather than the thinly sliced variety.
This richly spiced chicken stew has just a touch of sweetness from dried apricots and honey, resulting in a perfectly balanced dish that requires little effort to prepare.
Switch up your usual beef stew with this Asian-inspired version. Five-spice powder, which is an intensely flavourful blend of Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cloves, cinnamon and fennel, lends the stew a mix of warm, sweet and savoury notes.
Cooking molasses boasts a more robust and less sweet taste than the fancy variety, which gives this hearty stew a rich, full-bodied flavour. Whisking in a bit of flour at the end thickens the sauce, making this the ultimate satisfying stick-to-your-ribs meal.
It's time to rethink your beauty biases toward oils. Oil is no longer a dirty word in the language of beauty, these hydrating elixers are the key to supple skin, soft hair and a glowing complexion. We've rounded up our must-have oil cleansers, anti-agers and de-frizzers—and how to use them.
This product is full of 8 essential oils that help to protect the skin's moisture barrier. It's light, non-greasy and incredibly nourishing.
This two-in-one dry oil and toner combines the nutritive properties of four precious oils with the benefits of a fresh tonic water within a fifty/fifty bi-phase formulation. It helps target dryness while helping to give skin firmness.
The packaging calls it a balm, but this product is full of coconut, grapeseed, sweet almond and coffee arabica seed oils to help target stretch marks, cellulite, psoriasis and eczema.
This luxury organic skin care line is made in Vermont and knows a thing or two about oil. One of its newest launches is a oil cleanser which has quickly become a favourite among staffers at Canadian Living. The Biocompatible oils and esters dissolve makeup and cleanse skin while leaving the skin's barrier in perfect harmony. Great for anyone with dehydrated skin or if you live in a climate that experiences extreme cold—aka Canada.
The great thing about body oils? They also work aromatherapy wonders. This blend is a combination of sesame, safflower and rice bran oils as well as grapefruit, chamomile and vanilla essential oils for an uplifting treat for mind and body.
This oil is a favourite among some of the most stunning women in Hollywood, but it works wonders on everything and claims to work with all skin types. This luxury facial oil consists of 11 different kinds of oils. Some of which are arnica, it helps with healing the skin, perfect for any rough patches or acne. Primerose helps with hydration and redness and jasmine and neroli oil can help you relax.
A great skin soother, this oil also works to reduce the appearance of cellulite using algae extract (a powerful antioxidant).
There are a lot of serums and hair oils on the market, but one of our favourite ones is Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil. The formula uses argan, coconut, macadamia-nut, sweet-almond and grape-see oil to help enhance shine, smooth away flyways and stop frizz in its tracks.
Another multi-tasker, this dry oil (for hair, face and body) includes a blend of grapeseed, sesame, and argan oils leaving your skin super soft and hydrated.
This oil based balm is packed with 12 essential oils to help reduce imperfection and rebalance skin's barrier. Sitting just under $100 bucks a pop it's pricey, but worth the splurge. The texture and smell is super indulgent and makes the mundane task of cleansing your face so much more enjoyable.
This multi-purpose oil works for both hair and body, and is formualted with organic Community Trade argan oil frm Morocco.
This organic body oil helps to improve skin and visibly improve it's texture after one month of regular (a few times a week) use. The star ingredients are organic birch leaves, organic rosemary, rusks, apricot kernel oil and jojoba oil.
A cult favourite, this oil (with a non-oily texture) is lightweight and full of vitamin E.
Water and oil seem to get along pretty well in this formula. The hydrating formula improves skin elasticity and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while a cold-pressed blend of seed oils allows for maximum potency of actives for optimal results.
This limited edition oil features the fragrance of the brand's Amazing Grace Eau de Toilette. Apply to skin fresh out of the shower, or put a couple drops in your bath for a subtle, clean scent.
After spending the day soaking up UV rays your skin becomes dry because its barrier breaks down, preventing it from retaining lipids and moisture. Sooth sun exposed skin with a light oil, like this one from Vichy. Its comprised of sheer oil; apricot kernel oil, coriander and blackcurant seeds, plus its jam packed with fatty acids that help nourish and build up your barrier. If you don't like anything heavy on your skin apply in the shower then rinse off, but if you're craving something weightier apply on dry or post shower skin.
Formulated for skin post-wax, this product contains coconut oil, arnica oil, aloe vera and calendula oil that works to soothe skin and heal irritations.
This incredibly moisturizing oil is perfect for summer when quick-dry and sunkissed are your main priorities.
This multi-purpose—skin, hair, lips, nails—hydrating oil is 100 percent again oil and is super lightweight. Although it does absorb quickly, a little goes a long way.
If it ain't broke... If coconut oil is your go-to, we won't tell you to pick up something more complicated. Make sure to buy organic if you're putting this straight on your skin.
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