One of the most outstanding scientists of all time, Albert Einstein, used to call himself an “involuntary swindler”, whose work didn’t deserve that much attention. Even the award-winning writer Maya Angelou couldn't escape the niggling self-doubt that she hadn't really earned her accomplishment. “I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out”, that’s what she used to say, in spite of writing 11 books and winning several prestigious awards.
The first one to study this sense of insecurity was a psychologist named Pauline Rose Clance. She noticed how many of her patients who were students or were about to step into the professional world shared a common concern: even after scoring high grades and securing spots in prestigious universities, they believed they didn't deserve it all. Some even went to the extent of thinking it was an admission error. Clance could clearly remember how she felt the same way in graduate school.
So where do these feelings of self-doubt come from?
People who are well skilled tend to think others are just as skilled, pulling them into thinking if they really deserve opportunities over others. And just like Angelou and Einstein, there’s no particular level of accomplishment that puts these thoughts at rest.
Feelings of self-doubt aren't just restricted to highly skilled people, either. We each doubt ourselves privately, but since no one is voicing their thoughts, we believe we’re alone in thinking that way. We don’t really know how hard our peers are working, how difficult they find certain tasks, or just how much they doubt themselves, which makes coming out of this feeling of incapability quite hard. And this very self-doubt prevents a lot of great ideas from coming to the surface, and a lot of talented people from applying for a job where they would have excelled otherwise.
So far, one of the best and proven ways to combat self-doubt is to talk about it. People going through this fear that if they openly ask or talk about their performance, their fear of being average will be confirmed. And even if they hear good words about their work, it fails to put their mind at ease. But hearing about the struggles and experiences of their seniors or mentors can help relieve those feelings. Even simply finding out that they’re not alone in this brings great sense of relief.