Why do you feel bad about success?

We are taught in schools that “you reap what you sow” and “success is 90% perseverance and 10% luck”, so why do many smart people undergo confidence crises?

You may be a go-getter who accomplished much, but yet feel you are undeserving of your achievements. You wonder if luck or a higher blessing played a bigger role in your success than your abilities.

You feel like a fraud, because there’s nothing spectacular about succeeding when you already have a headstart over the disadvantaged, and you feel guilty for taking the credit when your life could have easily turned the other way.

I read an article on Imposter Syndrome and found that these confidence crises you have could be attributed to the “Dunning-Kruger effect.”

On one hand, people who have been through more will question themselves even when they are on the right track, because they remember the many mistakes they made in the past.

On the other hand, some newbies who haven’t had enough experience to know how n00b they are will think more highly of themselves.

Or as aptly summarised by Bertrand Russell:

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.

In Singapore, we’ve been ingrained with our goal being the elusive 100 marks, and alamak, even with bonus marks, H3 A level papers when the normal is H2, working more hours than the boss does, surpassing every single KPI the next year, playing all our various roles of worker parent child to a high standard and more.

If we fall short of that coveted A grade, university spot, promotion or award, we kick ourselves for not getting it.

If we do, sometimes we think we don’t deserve our accolades compared to others who worked longer hours, had a harder job or just didn’t get it for whatever reason although they tried as hard as us (hence the Imposter Syndrome).

I felt the guilt of it when I was the only one in my class to achieve 3 As, but had one of the poorest attendance records.

I was embarrassed to talk to some classmates as they had put in more effort than I did over the 2 years we studied together and I felt undeserving of the grades.

Even now, I wonder if someone will look at my work and life, and say, how did you manage to get so much when others tried harder but don’t?

Those who have the Imposter Syndrome are in a double bind. You feel bad about your achievements, stressed about maintaining the streak, but you can’t confide in most of the people you know because they’ll think you’re boasting or hypocritical.

You feel you don’t fit in. You’re too successful for your own good, and you have to live the illusion you deserve it. Every day can feel like a pretence.

How can you deal with it?

1. Letting go

It’s OK to make mistakes, to have a less than a perfect slate, to show some vulnerability and relinquish control to others to relieve the weight on your shoulders.

It’s OK to start from scratch, fall and fall again, being honest with yourself and others and accepting help when offered (especially for new parents).

2. Set your own expectations

Don’t live your life wholly by what other people expect of you. It’s your life, and you can decide how much is doable, and add what you want to the mix.

Sometimes we overexpect what people expect of us, meaning we think they want more out of us than they actually do.

Ask them what they expect and listen to what they are saying, instead of assuming you have a huge slate of expectations to fulfill.

3. Network with other successful people and ask them life questions

Many successful people have gone through questions of existence, conscience and self-worth.

How did they overcome it? Was there a turning point that defined their perspective? How did they stay calm in the face of failure?

Lastly, it’s OK to put on a brave face, but it won’t be OK putting on a front indefinitely.

It’s important we learn how to love ourselves and accept we are imperfect, and it’s OK that others know we are so.