If you find yourself doubting your accomplishments or experiencing a fear of being exposed as a fraud, you may be experiencing a case of “imposter syndrome”.
Whether you’re familiar with the term imposter syndrome or not, the symptoms are surprisingly common. Leaving imposter syndrome unchecked, however, could be holding you back in different areas of your life and, in more extreme cases, could become truly debilitating.
The good news is that there are a number of simple strategies that you could use to help you quieten your inner imposter.
What on earth is imposter syndrome?
Like many terms we hear banded around, there is no single agreed definition. These are a few that resonate with me.
“A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence” – Harvard Business Review
“A psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has an internalised fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ ” – Wikipedia.
The inability to acknowledge & internalise accomplishments is often a recurring theme.
Essentially, imposter syndrome manifests itself in our heads, via unhelpful thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves. What’s more, beliefs are simply stories we tell ourselves. So, what kind of things are we telling ourselves when we experience imposter syndrome?
- “Help! I’m out of my depth” – maybe in a new /different situation
- “I’m not worthy” – of the praise / recognition that someone is giving me
- “I feel like a fraud” – I shouldn’t really be here
- “I doubt myself” – I’m not sure that I’m capable
- “I’ve just been lucky” – I was in the right place at the right time, it’s not linked to merit
- “I’ll get found out” – when they see what I’m really like
I’m sure you get the picture.
Why does this happen?
There’s no single cause of imposter syndrome and triggers may differ by person, but, on reflection, it’s probably not that surprising.
- Many of us are ‘on show’ 24/7 – via social media and other virtual or physical platforms
- There are high expectations of us from society…and even higher expectations from ourselves … not to mention those from friends and family
- Many of us have amazing dreams and aspirations that we want to fulfil
- All while wanting to be the ‘best version’ of ourselves
The prevalence of imposter syndrome
Am I the only one who thinks this way?
You do, too?
We’re not alone then.
In fact, we’re in amazingly good company…
A UK study found that 62% of UK adults say they’ve experienced imposter syndrome at work in the past 12 months.
Furthermore, it can impact surprisingly high achievers. In recent years, there’ve been a number of celebrities admitting that they suffer from imposter syndrome. This includes some that you’d think would have it all sorted including Kate Winslet, Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington.
Here are a few examples of when I’ve experienced imposter syndrome over the last few years:
- At work, at a conference, in interviews – even though I was an accountant for 20 years and was actually pretty good at what I did
- Running training courses – aren’t they going to figure out, I’m just an accountant really?
- On a training course, surrounded by some amazing people
- Even sometimes as a parent!
What’s the significance of imposter syndrome?
If we leave imposter syndrome unchecked, it could hold us back from achieving our potential and living our true lives. What a huge potential loss!
It can also leave us feeling very uncomfortable. At worst, it can become debilitating and have significant negative impacts on us and those around us. Symptoms can include excessive stress, an intense fear of failure, performance anxiety and a general loss of self-confidence. Common ways that these symptoms could manifest include procrastination, perfectionism, indecisiveness, risk aversion, micromanagement and workaholism.
None of these impacts are desirable, so let’s look at some ways to quieten our inner imposters.
Strategies for dealing with imposter syndrome
Alas, there is no ‘one size fits all’ cure or solution for imposter syndrome.
These are some tools that I use, and that could help you too:
- Accept that it’s OK to feel it, as long as it doesn’t inhibit your ability or cripple your progression
- Embrace who you are – remind yourself of your strengths and skills
- Take stock of all the things you’ve done and how far you’ve come
- Embrace your status – whether you’re a newcomer, long serving or an expert
- Identify peers and colleagues who you can speak to
- Tell yourself some positive affirmations e.g. I am a successful accountant or I’ve got this.
- Revisit reviews & feedback from others. They’re probably not just saying nice things to make you feel good.
- Challenge any ‘limiting beliefs’ that could be holding you back – e.g. I’ve never been good at maths.
- Cultivate more helpful patterns of thinking e.g. I am capable of learning new tasks and skills.
- Investigate options for coaching, workshops and courses – see below
For further insight, check out these other articles I’ve written on Imposter Syndrome
A little extra support
Self-help can certainly be very useful, but sometimes working with others can really help you to move forwards.
Imposter Syndrome comes up a lot during my coaching sessions with clients. No matter who they are and how successful they are.
The benefits of working on this 1:1 are that the most appropriate tools can be identified and applied for your particular situation, with added accountability to boot!
Small group workshops can be useful to learn that you’re not alone, to discuss and share strategies with others and to experience some tools and techniques first hand.
Check out my Imposter Syndrome workshop for upcoming dates.
Last but not least, I also have an online course version Quieten Your Imposter Syndrome that you can access and use on demand to suit your needs.
Imposter syndrome is surprisingly common and can crop up in different areas of our lives. If we leave it unchecked, it could hold us back from achieving our potential and living our true lives. At worst, it could become debilitating, having significant negative impacts on us and those around us.
As it comes from our internal beliefs and feelings, we have the ability to do something about it. There are numerous tools and techniques that you could try to quieten your inner imposter. I hope you found sound of my suggestions useful.
If you could benefit from discussing this further, book into your free career discussion with me.
Thanks for reading. Check out other Blue Diamond articles to help you take control of your work and life.