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Impostor Syndrome: Why Do I Self-Sabotage When I’m on Easy Street?

Why is it when things are going well, we feel like an impostor and can’t help but self-sabotage and trip ourselves up on purpose? Why is it we feel like frauds when we find success, feel unworthy of love when someone takes interest or feel undeserving when something comes easily?

Why do we suffering from crippling self-doubt? Because we feel like a fake.

Impostor syndrome is a common psychological pattern in which we doubt ourselves to the point of self-detriment. Basically, we love to get in our own way. But why do we do it? Instead of being simply happy with our growing station in life, many of us would rather we accuse ourselves of being frauds and knock ourselves down a few pegs.

This might sound like a rare affliction that doesn’t apply to you or those around you. But a 2017 study found that one-third of millennials, along with many successful celebrities, admitted to suffering from it.

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If you break it down, impostor syndrome can be a bit maddening, the idea that so many people are incapable of enjoying what they’ve earned?

In careers alone, the idea that despite graduating from college, potentially further degrees with masters or doctorates, the internships, the initiative, the long nights, the sleeplessness, the anxiety, doing things we hate to get ahead in life and the ability to not only sustain employment in competitive industries but to thrive still isn’t enough for people to feel deserving enough to receive reward for hard work. More often than not, industries have to downsize and the people lucky enough to not get cut end up absorbing the people who are forced to leave, which means throwing guilt on top of a heavy workload.

All this to say, just because things are going well doesn’t mean they won’t go to hell. So enjoy what you can, while you can.

Maybe part of the problem is people kind of like it. Maybe they like the struggle, maybe they think if they’re extra hard on themselves no one else could be nearly as bad to them. Maybe it just feels good.

But that’s no way to live.

When we’re riding on Easy Street, it’s only a matter of time before we take a hard left down a dark alley that leads into an exitless cul de sac we can’t find a way out of. It’s the balance of life. Job promotions balanced out by struggling industries (say, in a pandemic). Babies born balanced out by elders passing (even if they’re coming in faster). Just when you think you have the house beat, it always comes back around. The house doesn’t need our help to gang up on us.

As Matthew McConaughey says in his new book, Greenlights, the uphill battles are coming so there’s no need to trip yourself. So how do we fix a fraud?

Fixing A Fraud

If you feel like a fraud, you’re basically calling yourself a fake. The only way to prove something isn’t fake is to provide facts. Facts fix fakes (say that five times fast). That’s how you realize you’re deserving of happiness and rewards that come your way.

But if it’s still a bit foggy, consider these:

Separate facts from feelings, especially the ones that tell you you’re less than, feelings that have little to no evidence to them. You not feel like you deserved a promotion, but if you’ve been with a company for a while, you routinely work hard and there is data to show it, the fact is you earned a promotion. If you feel undeserving of a beautiful partner who treats you well, the fact is you’re probably a good person who puts in the time, whether on your mind or the body, if not both. The fact is you earned them in your life.

You’re not “getting away” with anything, even if it feels like you’re cheating the system. After a pretty bleak 2016 where everything fell apart, things starting going well in 2017, almost too well. I felt like I didn’t do anything to deserve those things, from promotions and partners to unexpected surprises. The fact was I was a hardworking, good person who hit a rough patch, and things have a way of balancing themselves out (and maybe then some, if you had a hell of a year).

Accentuate the positive. It’s so easy for us to focus on the failures. The more we do, the more we’re wired for negative thinking, rather than a positive outlook. Instead, focus on what’s working for you and lean into that. The more you focus on the positive and improving the negative to be more positive, the less time there is to simply focus on how bad the negative is. More often than not, we’re too hard on ourselves anyway, and the negatives are never as bad as they seem.

Develop healthy responses to failure. We tend to be our own worst critics, and by immediately going hard on ourselves, we’re not giving ourselves the space to do better and make improvements. So instead of suffocating yourself with a focus on the failures, develop a response system that immediately focuses on the positive, then focus on ways to improve. Nobody’s perfect so there’s no point in striving for perfection.

In fact, develop multiple healthy systems. Start your day off right by taking care of your mind and your body, create to-do lists with easy tasks that build up to bigger ones and be sure to bookend each day with a bit of gratitude. Negativity won’t stand a chance.

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Develop a new script for yourself. Instead of attacking your character rather than your work, why not be a little more loving to yourself? Instead of telling yourself you suck at something (and ultimately, life in general), say something like “I could do better here” and develop ways of doing better. It’s all about perspective, and the way we shape the conversation has a huge impact on our outlook and ultimately our happiness. Go easy on yourself, go hard on your work.

Visualize success and attain it. What do success and happiness look like to you? Think about it, write it down. Set goals for yourself and set steps to achieve them. If you supersede your goals, don’t pretend you don’t deserve the wonderful byproducts that come with such a grand achievement.

Self-sabotage may be a popular pattern of thinking, but that’s a habit that, like most toxic things, can be whittled down and removed over time. It can be as easy as realizing you deserve what you get in life. You may think you’re less than others, that you don’t know as much, can’t do as much or can’t do things nearly as well. There’s always going to be someone who’s better out there, but the world is a big place, which means there’s more than enough space for a little love to give yourself. Lead with that.

So the next time things are going well, riding smoothly down Easy Street and you feel the need to jerk the wheel off-road into a ditch, just remember there’s plenty of swerves up ahead. Just enjoy the ride and know you’re doing your great.

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