“I feel like I’m waiting for people to find me out. Like they’ll realise any day that they’ve promoted the wrong person.” – Alice*, client.
Since being promoted to a senior role in her law firm, Alice had worked her backside off. She was desperate to hide her self-diagnosed lack of competence. During our first coaching session, as she revealed her worries about being unmasked, Alice talked as if she was actually just 3 cartoon animals stacked up in a trenchcoat.
It was a classic case of Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is a system of self-doubting beliefs that interfere with one’s sense of security and ownership in a role. The psychologists who named it described it as a sense of “…phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”**
If this sounds like you, you’re far from alone. An article in the International Journal of Behavioral Science estimated that approximately 70% of people experience impostor feelings at some point. Even exceptional people such as John Kirwan, Einstein, Tina Fey, Maya Angelou and Seth Godin have described their struggles with imposter syndrome-like experiences. In other words, imposter syndrome is an A-grade BS artist!
There’s nothing wrong with having doubts about your performance as you take on new challenges. In fact, it can be good to identify competency gaps and think deeply about the best way to approach challenges. However, Imposter Syndrome isn’t about being aware that you need to develop and seek new perspectives. Imposter Syndrome is thinking that you don’t deserve to be where you are because you have these needs.
Identifying your developmental needs leads to gain. Imposter Syndrome, on the other hand, extracts a price from you. Costs can include:
The good news is that Imposter Syndrome can be kicked to the curb. Here’s how:
Flush It Out
Imposter Syndrome is a negative ninja that likes to lurk in the shadows. It’s at its most powerful when you’re not even conscious of the self-doubts running through your mind.
The first step to changing is to actually notice when Imposter Syndrome shows up. Start paying attention to moments when you feel insecure or fraudulent. Then ask yourself, “What is my mind saying right now?” “What story am I telling myself?” By bringing the thoughts out into the open, you can start to analyse how reasonable or helpful they are.
Sometimes writing the thoughts down or talking about them with trusted people augments this process. Getting self-doubts out of your head and onto paper or into a conversation can increase your perspective on how unreasonable and unhelpful they are.
Identify some good ways to reframe your perspective. Ask yourself, “What would be a more helpful way for me to think about my situation?” For example, Alice identified that she thought that if she wasn’t great at all aspects of her job her superiors would be disappointed in her. So she started reminding herself that her superiors hired her KNOWING that it was a step up for her. She reframed the thought, “they need me to be perfect” to “they believe in my ability to grow into this role.”
If you’re having difficulty with this reframing step, it helps to ask yourself what you would tell a friend if they were in your position? What encouraging statements would you make in response to their self-doubts?
Practice a Growth Mindset
People with a growth mindset see themselves as works in progress. Rather than beating themselves up with the thought, “I haven’t mastered this” they encourage themselves with the thought, “I haven’t mastered this YET.” They place more importance on IMproving than proving. This frees them from fear of failure and encourages them to try new things.
Identify your “I Cans”
People with Imposter Syndrome often focus on what they can’t do; the gaps in their knowledge/expertise. To boost your confidence when approaching a challenge, try listing what you CAN do, or what value you CAN add to a situation. When compiling this list, think about your strengths and past successes.
Glean the Good
Capture evidence of your strengths. Keep records of the praise and thanks that you receive. Consider making a list each day of what you’ve done well, or what you’ve contributed. Items can be as small as “had a conversation I wanted to avoid” or as big as “won that contract!”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy