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Do you suffer from imposter syndrome?

In the last 3 weeks, I’ve spoken to 4 of my clients who are all being dragged down by the imposter undertow. I thought it would be good to look at that this week. So let’s get to it!

The imposter syndrome is a fear or belief that you will be found out to be not all that great – because you are, in fact, and really truly – not all that great!

It was named in the 1970s by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes and was initially thought to be something only women felt. Subsequent research has shown it’s spread evenly across genders, and in fact 70% of workers have experienced some form of imposter syndrome in their career!

The imposter syndrome is that feeling you’ll be caught out, or that someone will discover that you’re not actually as capable or accomplished as they think you are. It’s an apprehension of being fraudulent. You worry you are not as good as others think you are, and them cottoning on.

It might be triggered when
– you feel you move into role that you feel you didn’t deserve, or a role that is more complicated than what you’ve done previously (which – news flash – is every new role!).
– you get a recognition at work you believe is unearned.
– you get a perfectly fine performance review, but you second guess it. You then feel less bold and confident in your abilities as the imposter syndrome strangles you.
–  you are ready to launch that campaign or start that business – but…’I’m not Richard Branson or Melanie Perkins or Kate Morris… and people will find out I don’t really know what I’m doing” kicks in. Launch is postponed and dream sabotaged.

With the imposter syndrome, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop – that one day you’ll get tapped on the shoulder and asked to box up your things and leave the building, or at least be sent back to the role from which you came.

Some of the beliefs running imposter syndrome include “I’m a fake’, “I just got lucky and that luck will run out”, “I’m not as good as people think”, or “one day they’ll find out.”
There’s an embarrassment that comes with it, and shame. That fear of being unmasked and found you’re not Batman, but rather some inept sad little side character.

Here are some suggestions to help regain perspective when the imposter syndrome hits.

1. Understand that this is a common feeling of not being good enough, and being found out. Most people feel this at some point. You’re not a loser or alone because you think this.

I remember when I was in my mid twenties and a man about 20 years older who was a doctor, spoke about his feeling of being found out – that one day soon his friends and colleagues would discover that underneath it all he was a fraud. I was so shocked because I had felt that too, and thought it was just me! It was a powerful realisation that imposter mindsets are pervasive, and can strike irrespective of our actual or even perceived success.

2. Recognise the imposter syndrome when it emerges. “Ah, hello imposter syndrome, there you are.” See it for what it is – a story you are telling yourself. It is not true, and your thoughts and feelings are not you.

3. Be authentic and real about where you may need help, and share that with others. The imposter syndrome lives in the shadows. It lives in fear of being discovered, so sharing with others can diffuse an imposter syndrome hijack!

4. Get clear about where you feel you are falling short. Imposter syndrome judges itself against unclear or imagined criteria. Are you really failing? Are you really not competent or a fraud? Against what criteria? Check this with others who know you, to get some perspective. If there are gaps (and there will be), make a plan to address them.

5. When you fail (as you will), reframe this as natural and necessary growth. It doesn’t mean anything inherent about you. Failure is only a negative experience if you don’t learn from it, or only use it to beat yourself up, or to play smaller and smaller.

What are your strategies for banishing the imposter syndrome? What triggers it for you? I’d love to hear.

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