Why is Imposter Syndrome terrorizing millennials?

By Jasper de Taeye on March 9, 2020
So many people do not even come close to reaching their potential.
Because they feel like a fraud.
They are not sick, but they are struggling with imposter syndrome.
It is impeding them from growth that matches their potential.

Imposter syndrome's negative effects

Exhibit A: Jim

Let’s have a look at Jim’s life. Fresh out of college, Jim started to work for a Software-as-a-Service company. He rose through the ranks quickly here. Apparently, he was doing his job well! Recently, he has been promoted to manager of engineering. Despite his significant achievements, the results and the promotion, Jim worries that people will find out he’s not that competent. He has 25 people reporting to him and has been awarded a gigantic salary + equity. He’s scared they will find out and take everything away.

Exhibit B: Asja

Then there’s Asja. Asja is an ambitious leader of the digital marketing department at a corporation. She works hard and has a high emotional intelligence enabling her to connect well with all her reports. Though, she is always procrastinating the work she has to do for senior leadership. She procrastinates because she is afraid that even the tiniest mistake will expose her as a fraud. She believes that she got her current position just by luck.
Seriously…. What’s going on here! These two are super competent and knowledgeable and true assets to any company. Why are they downplaying themselves that much? Why are they afraid to step into the spotlight and help others to reach what they have achieved. These two cases are clear examples of people coping with imposter syndrome, a phenomenon wherein successful people doubt their competence.

Symptoms of imposter syndrome

Tons of people in our society are experiencing imposter syndrome. Do you recognize the following? You’ve already been working in your current job for a while. The leaders that you report to are satisfied with your performance and trust you entirely. Friends, family, and colleagues think you are self-confident and you have a feeling that they even admire you. However, from-the-inside it doesn’t feel like that. You think that you’re just doing your job and a paralyzing uncertainty lurks in the back of your mind. There is always that little voice that whispers: “Oh my god, I cannot do this all at once. Why on earth did they hire me? I’m just improvising here. When will they find out? When will they see that I really cannot do anything right? Someday they will find out and I will fall….”

Furthermore, do you recognize that you:

    1. 1. Don’t really celebrate your achievements but always just keep going?
    1. 2. Always second-guess decisions?
      3. Believe that faith and luck are the causes of your success?

Do you recognize all these things? Then, don’t worry at all. You’re most likely affected by imposter syndrome. That perhaps sounds a little heavy and daunting but it isn’t. Rest assured! You are not the only one. The outcome of research varies but one thing is clear and that is that a lot of people are affected by imposter syndrome.

According to research, 70% of US millennials suffer from imposter syndrome to some extent.

So.... What is Imposter Syndrome actually?

We have to go all the way back to the 1970s to find the moment when imposter syndrome was researched for the first time. Though, in this decade, the concept has become more well-known in the workplace and personal life. Why? Mainly because of the increased awareness, rise of self-care and perhaps also the fact that more millennials are affected by the imposter syndrome. 

Wikipedia describes imposter syndrome as the experiences of individuals who struggle to recognize the legitimacy of their accomplishments and are afraid that others will discover they are frauds. It is not a definitive causality, but those who are affected by imposter syndrome may have low self-confidence as well. And this, even though they have top-class resumes and have already achieved loads. 

But does imposter syndrome to some extent not motivate us? It could be a catalyst to work harder, right? No. The negative effects clearly outweigh the positive ones. Toxic work environments and limited education in terms of self-care are causes of the rise of imposter syndrome in our lives. That is sad. Because we want our highly competent individuals with the greatest ideas to feel free to express them, right? That can lead to great things! And we don’t want imposter syndrome to gag them from uttering these. Imposter syndrome has a negative effect on individuals. But for sure on our society at large as well. It impedes individuals and our society from growing to their potential.


Why are we millennials specifically affected by it?

So, why are we the unlucky ones? Why are we the ones who are most affected by this imposter syndrome? Is it true what they say about millennials? Are we the snowflake generation that is fragile and needs a lot of care? 


We believe that the millennial generation is the generation with the highest potential. We are able to accomplish great things and have already proven this time after time. Generation X and the baby boomers are benefiting daily from all the inventions made by the millennials. Though, this geniality comes at a cost. Our generation is also the one with the highest emotional sensitivity. We experience everything super intensely. Next to that, we are dealing with a set of difficult challenges unique to the times we live in.

  1. We save for our first house but the housing market is becoming more and more difficult for first-time home buyers.
  2. We often have an absurdly high student debt we've been tricked into by generation X and baby boomers.
  3. We want to establish a family of our own, but we worry it will be difficult to achieve in the turbulent times we’re living in.

It doesn’t count for everybody, but to some extent, we have our parents to thank for our confidence deficit. We are members of the so-called trophy generation. We were  praised for every little thing we did in our youth. Children even got trophies for coming last. Our parents, with the best intentions to be clear, shielded us from any negativity. Resulting in that the transition to grown-up-life is even steeper. This time we won’t get a reward for every deed done. This fuels our uncertainty and frees the way for the imposter syndrome to kick in and suffocate us.

When we millennials grow up we believe that a reward is granted for everything we do. But then we start to understand that being rewarded requires hustling your way through life. We believe when we have children, we will be an amazing mother like the one we had. But then we understand that this takes time to learn. When we start working, we believe we will receive the same number of awards we did in school. But then we understand that corporate life often doesn’t work like that.
All the societal pressure, circumstances and our innate characteristics as millennials lead to us not always feeling that confident in the workplace.

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Article written by Jasper de Taeye

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