01/19/24 | Career, Leadership

Taking on Imposter Syndrome Head On

Below is an excerpt from Coline Monsarrat’s new book, You Are Not an Imposter: Unlock Your True Potential So You Can Thrive in Life. Part memoir and part guide, Monsarrat’s book reveals how imposter syndrome can infiltrate all areas of our lives, from our careers to our health, without us even realizing it. She delves into the science behind the condition, discussing how it can bring self-doubt, perfectionism, low self-esteem and confidence, and people-pleasing, to name a few, and how it can ultimately hold us back from achieving our full potential.

One of the beliefs that commonly leads to perfectionism is that a person’s worth is based on what they achieve. Some parents set the standard so high for their children that only perfect grades, winning performances, and flawless recitals are good enough. Mistakes and failures are unacceptable and sometimes even punished. If you were one of these kids and grew up in this environment, you learned that mistakes and failures are not tolerated. As an adult, the pattern continues, and you develop unrealistic expectations from people around you, especially yourself.

When I worked on trying to identify the roots of my perfectionism, these beliefs of perfection as the only option were the most crystal clear ones. As an adult, I had become allergic to failure. Me, fail? Never. And if I would foresee this possibility, I would just avoid doing the thing that would put me in that position.

To understand how I came to be this way, I revisited my childhood. Growing up as the daughter of a perfectionist mother, I would constantly hear (and feel) that second place was not an option. My siblings and I needed to be first in everything we did. It meant being the first student at school and the best in whatever hobby we had. For us, it was the only option to bring happiness to my mother.

We correlated the idea that being first meant that our mother would be proud of us. So we strived for perfection, even if it meant avoiding doing things that we loved or hiding our mistakes. I wanted so much for her to be proud that I would go to great lengths to achieve this.

One day, I am embarrassed to say, that I cried in class when I received an A grade, to my classmate’s greatest annoyance. Yes, I was actually this annoying kid. But my classmates did not know that I had been primed to think only A+ was acceptable. And if I did not achieve this grade, I would drag my mother’s feelings down, which was one of my greatest fears. And to an extent, it was an unfounded one.

My siblings were the same. My brother quickly became an expert at hiding his test results under his bed. Though, he was caught once, and let’s just say that it taught us a great lesson. His hand must still feel the pain of writing “I should not lie to my mother” 500 times.

As I am writing these words, my mother sounds like a horrible person—the total opposite of what she actually was. I could not have dreamt of a better mother. The problem is that, as a kid, I could not understand why it was so important to her for us to be first; also, my interpretation of her expectations was distorted. Yes, she wanted us to be first, but not at the cost of our happiness and mental well-being. For example, she congratulated me when I brought back my A grade. I had spent an entire class in tears at the fear of disappointing her when I did not. It was I who had exaggerated her wish to an extent that my expectation for perfection became even higher than hers.

As an adult, I now understand how my mother came to think this way, and the motive behind her wish for perfection. The only thing she wanted the most was for us to succeed in life. She had not had an easy one, far from it, and wanted the best for us. She did not realize how this quest for perfection would lead us on a completely different path than the one she intended.

Being a parent is hard, as I said before, and most of them have only one wish: to see their kids succeed and be happy, whatever it means. But sometimes, they take the wrong approach to achieve it. We should also never forget that our parents also bring with them the scars of their past. We also need to consider the society and world in which they grew up that impacted how they think.

And there is a vicious cycle to consider: When perfectionism erupts from this type of experience, the child who grew up believing that mistakes are bad and perfection is the only way, will teach their kids the same things in return. Until someone breaks this negative pattern, it goes on from one generation to the next. So, be the one who stops it.

Coline Monsarrat

Coline Monsarrat

Coline Monsarrat is a passionate author driven by a mission to help others thrive. She weaves captivating stories that transcend boundaries. Whether through her insightful nonfiction work or the adventure MG book series, Aria & Liam, she imparts valuable wisdom that inspires readers to overcome challenges and embrace their potential.

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