7 Steps to Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Recently, a number of clients have admitted to feeling imposters in their role. These have included men and women, all who were at the top of their field, including partners of law firms, a group finance director and even directors of private companies with a multi-million turnover.
Impostor syndrome—refers to an internal experience of belief – that you’re not as competent as others around you and you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your genuine talent, skill or qualifications. This feeling of fraudulence is extremely common. It is often accompanied with feelings that our ideas and skills aren’t worthy of others’ attention, ensuring that we don’t speak up, put ourselves forward or share ideas.
I experienced this myself a few years ago when I was writing my book ‘Enlightened Leaders’ – the thought kept coming up –“Who was I to speak on such a subject? Who was I to have the audacity to suggest I had some experience that made me an authority and therefore tell others what they should do?” it was a challenging, conflict filled experience, with me fighting my own mind and the thoughts it kept presenting me. My mind kept comparing me with many others who had written books – professors, leading business figures, better qualified etc, etc. And in all cases, it suggested that I was lesser and that my views were not worth theirs.
Yet in most areas of my life, I don’t experience imposter syndrome.
How about you? Is there a specific area in which you are challenged, and feel an imposter, and other areas where you feel perfectly accomplished?
It is surprising that when I researched the subject, that Albert Einstein and Maya Angelou were two highly accomplished people that also experienced such internal beliefs. The topic was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes and originally they theorized that women were uniquely affected by impostor syndrome. However, subsequent research confirmed that it is an experience shared by men.
I believe that this feeling has been exacerbated by last year’s Covid lockdown – as people have not had the private meetings and chats that enabled people to feel the empathy of others and to experience themselves as accomplished in the eyes of others. There are manifold values to the inter-personal experience which we have missed, and this is an important one.
In experiencing it and also helping some of my clients address it in their own lives and work, these are some of the ways that I advise you can overcome imposter syndrome; and enable yourself to do what you wish to do, with the minimum amount of interference.
The brain and mind have the most incredible nonsense passing through it a lot of the time, and your best primary response is to separate yourself from what it is saying, observe it and ask the question – ‘Is it true?’ You after all, are NOT your mind – you are the Consciousness/Awareness/Observer that observes the mind think and can assess the thoughts it thinks.
- it’s a criticism or judgement that we’re making on very little information, to the detriment of ourselves. Often our mind and brains have been badly trained (in psychological terms) by the Ego to assess, judge and criticise everyone and everything else. And often it is this mechanism applied to ourselves that cause these thoughts and feelings of being an Imposter.
- Letting others know is a sure-fire way to combat imposter syndrome and admitting to feelings of shame about the specifics of what you’re experiencing, allows others the opportunity to empathise and lets you know you are not alone. Coming out of your mind and feelings into dialogue with others can be tremendously freeing, either by minimising the strength of what you’re thinking or by allowing you to feel that you’re not so different to others.
- This requires you to examine your thoughts and identify that your feelings of insecurity are based on the fact that you actually don’t have the skills or knowledge required to do something. I remember feelings of inadequacy when in meetings with people who created in swaps in investment banking – then I knew I was totally out of my depth. But recognising it was true, enabled me to steer clear of offering opinions, or bluffing and I never purported to be ‘in with that crowd’. A sense of belonging fosters confidence, whilst being with people you are not in affinity with, fosters insecurity.
- . If you’re the only or one of a few people in a meeting, classroom, field, or workplace who look or sound like you, or are much older or younger, then it’s only natural you’d sometimes feel like you don’t totally fit in. Plus, if you’re the first woman, person of colour, or person with a disability to achieve something in your world, e.g. first director, astronaut, judge, supervisor, TED speaker, etc. there’s that added pressure to represent your entire group. Instead of seeing your self-doubt as a sign of imposter syndrome, recognize that it might be a normal response to being on the receiving end of social stereotypes about competence and intelligence.
- Going back to Item 1 – by consciously being aware of the conversation going on in your head when you’re in a situation that triggers your Impostor feelings, you can decide differently. If your internal script is something like “Everyone will find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” tell yourself “Everyone who starts something new doesn’t know everything they need, I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.” Instead of looking around the room and thinking, “Oh my God everyone here is brilliant…. and I’m not” choose “Everyone here is brilliant – I’m really going to learn a lot!”
- Whenever and wherever you are going into a challenging scenario or meeting, spend time beforehand picturing yourself doing the thing that you fear; making a successful presentation or calmly posing your questions or speaking out to contribute to a discussion. You may need to over-write any previous picturing of impending disaster but ensure that you go into a light meditative state to do such projections and they will aid you tremendously. All professional athletes do this, as well as a huge number of high performers. Visualise it, project it and then follow up with actions.Take risks and act courageously to reinforce your projection and over a short period of time, you will undoubtedly experience success.
7th April 2021