Are you struggling with Imposter Syndrome?
By Lindsey Hood
Do you worry that you are not good enough to go for that promotion? Do you live in fear that your manager is going to find out that you are not up to the job and is going to fire or demote you? Do you have sleepless nights worrying you are going to be found out as some sort of a fraud? Do you have evidence, such as experience, training, qualifications and skills that would suggest none of these fears are warranted?
If yes, you may be struggling with the imposter syndrome – the feeling that you are some sort of ‘imposter’ within your career and do not deserve your current position or life circumstance, regardless of the evidence to the contrary.
And you are not alone! Up to 70% of individuals will struggle with these feelings at some point in their life.
The term Imposter Syndrome was first coined in 1978 by 2 psychologists, Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes. Their research found that high performing women, no matter their accomplishments, still remained convinced they didn’t deserve their success or accolades and that they were in fact a fraud. These successful women dismissed their successes as luck or some kind of deception on their part in convincing someone they were better than they actually are. Clance and Imes’ original research was focused on high achieving women, but further research has shown that men are just as likely to be affected by this phenomenon.
Why do I feel like I’m not good enough?
Feelings of self doubt may arise for many reasons, but the one I want to focus in on today is that you may currently be thinking in a polarised way: they are perfect (and this ‘they’ is everyone around you); I am not.
This thinking comes from your own self awareness. You can easily recall any mistakes you’ve made, any difficulties you’ve faced, the [constructive] criticism you’ve received. All of these things are part of your unique experience of being yourself, and many of these things will now be part of your ‘story’. For example, if your manager told you that a presentation you gave was not engaging, you may now tell yourself that you are not good at giving presentations, or that you are not a great public speaker. Whenever you have to do something that you don’t feel comfortable doing, you see yourself as ‘acting’ rather than ‘being’ a certain way.
You then compare this to everyone else. But the others are the images you see – your manager that seems so cool, calm and collected, your colleague that seems organised, the other candidates going for the job you want that have all the experience and qualifications required to do the role better than you. And with social media the pressure is even greater with airbrushed celebrities and friends and colleagues sharing their highlight reels. You are taking all of this information at face value. You are not thinking about how the individuals are feeling, that maybe they have internal struggles and self doubt, that maybe they have to work at the skills you see as natural to them, that they also make mistakes. You take an external view only – you see what they are showing the world, not what they are necessarily feeling. You see everyone else as ‘being’ a certain way, rather than ‘acting’.
Although both these views are your truth, it isn’t a fair comparison. By taking your external view of them, you are saying they are fully deserving of their status/situation – this is who they are, and they are definitely not an imposter; and because you are acutely aware of everything you have been through in your life you feel that you are not deserving because you don’t think you compare to them, thus you must be an imposter.
But think about the statistic of 70% of us struggle with these feelings – this means 7 out of 10 of the ‘them’ you think about have some level of self doubt. The same way when people look at you, they see a certain image – someone who is capable and competent – that is what you are seeing when you look at others. Remember, the image you see is not the same as how someone is feeling.
How do I overcome these feelings of self doubt?
Below are some ideas that I’ve found particularly useful::
REFRAME YOUR FEELINGS
You often feel like an imposter when you are trying something new – for example, a new job role, a promotion, or even a new hobby or leisure activity. Accept that when you are learning something new these feelings are natural for you and part of the change cycle. Reframe your thinking and embrace it as a good thing – it means you are learning and growing!
ACKNOWLEDGE PAST ACHIEVEMENTS
I ask clients to keep a journal with everything they have achieved to this point – big and small – so they are building an evidence bank of things that they have accomplished. Once you have mastered a particular skill or have been doing something for a period of time, you start taking it for granted. But at some point in time, it wasn’t easy or something you could just ‘do’ – you learnt it and went through a process. Yes, you may be facing into something different, but you now have a wealth of evidence of your resilience and resourcefulness when facing into varied and sometimes difficult situations that you can pull on to know you can get through this new challenge as well.
CREATE A PLAN
Think about your ideal situation – where you know you wouldn’t feel like an imposter. For example, if you are wanting a promotion, identify what you genuinely need to learn and develop to get the new position – and then get the help you need. Feelings of self doubt can feel crippling, and can really hold you back from achieving your full potential, but working through exactly what you need to do, in an objective way, can help you see the steps you need to move you from where you are today, to where you want to be, with confidence. The steps you may identify might be getting a mentor, working with a mindset coach, talking to your manager about your career aspirations, working towards a new qualification, improving your interview skills, getting professional help in re-writing your CV. Timeline out how long these steps will take you. And then start taking action – action builds confidence as by doing these things you are further adding to your achievements and proving to yourself (so providing your own evidence to quieten your self-doubt) that you can do this
(1) The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention – Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes – Published in Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice Volume 15, #3, Fall 1978
Lindsey Hood is a gentle life and executive coach who specialises in working with women who secretly struggle with impostor syndrome – those feelings of being a ‘fraud’ within their career, that they will get ‘found out’ and the belief that they are not good enough to be in the position they are in.
Lindsey uses a mixture of a psychometric tool and coaching to deepen self awareness, so these amazing women can appreciate their own unique attributes, and then harness this to excel in the career they love. Knowing what gives them energy, and the strengths that are natural to them, means they can utilise their own uniqueness to be able to implement simple strategies to show up in all situations in a way that is authentic to their true selves. Find out more at: www.lindseyhood.net