The Reality of Imposter Syndrome
Do you ever suffer from imposter syndrome?
If you’ve ever been to a women’s conference, a professional development course or a leadership event for women, you will have no doubt heard about imposter syndrome. Spoken about amongst women as one of the key reasons for their lack of confidence, other than the notion that, “I feel like a fraud,” it’s often not defined or clarified as to what it actually is and how to deal with it.
Imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behaviour where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Not an actual disorder, the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have.
They call their success luck, good timing, and dismissed as other’s believing they were better, more intelligent and more competent than they actually are. And whilst yes, early research from the psychologists work focused on high achieving women, the syndrome has actually been found to impact men and women in roughly equal numbers.
We all suffer from it. I’ve known the most senior men who struggle with it day in day out. General Managers running billion dollar companies. Speakers who command audiences in the thousands. Powerful men who still wonder if what they are doing is good enough, or if they are about to be found out for being an imposter.
And yes, it impacts us as women every day. You know how it goes. You get the promotion at work, and your inner narrative is that they must have been short on candidates. Your business has a great win, and you tell yourself that it was sheer chance that the client found you (and they mustn’t have looked too far and wide).
You are getting ready to give a presentation, and you secretly think that you’re about to be found out for how hopeless you really are. Or you’re sitting in a big meeting and you just know that the boss will walk in any minute, tap you on the shoulder, and tell you they have finally realised that you really aren’t qualified for the job (even though you’re the most experienced person in the room). It can be completely derailing.
If you can relate to these stories, or have found yourself in similar situations, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone - we hear these stories and so many more from women inside the Women Rising program every single day – and there are strategies that can help you overcome it.
We know from the research that imposter syndrome is in large part, a reaction to certain circumstances or situations. So whilst you may feel fully confident speaking to a group of more junior people, addressing your peers could completely undo you. Or you could be fine at work, but having to speak up at the local school meeting? Forget about it.
A tendency toward perfectionism, fear of failure, continually undermining one’s achievements (trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro? Oh it was nothing!) are all indicators that you might be prone. And it can be debilitating, causing stress, anxiety, low self-confidence, shame and in some cases, even depression.
Perhaps the most limiting part of dealing with imposter syndrome is that it can limit our courage to go after new opportunities, explore potential areas of interest, and put ourselves out there in a meaningful way.
There are many strategies that can help you deal with imposter syndrome and whilst we can’t share them all here, there are a few immediate tips you can take on board right now to move forward and deal with any fraudulent feelings:
Voice your feelings: speak to a trusted coach, mentor, friend or peer and share your fears. Doing this helps to normalise what you are feeling. One of the most brilliant aspects of the Women Rising program is the community and women realising that by being vulnerable and sharing how they feel that it’s not just them and they aren’t alone – and that there are real solutions to help move them through it.
Celebrate your successes: write down lists of your achievements, skills, successes to demonstrate that you really do have concrete value to share with the world. Specifically, write a list of all you have achieved in the past 5 years. You will be astounded at the confidence boost and sense of self-worth you will feel when you look at this list and savour all you have to be proud of. And it’s a great thing to pull out and reflect on before an important meeting, job interview or presentation.
Connect with your support system: ensure you have a really strong support system of people who have your back, believe in you and can validate the very best things about you when you need it. You can get this from friends, a networking group at work, your manager or peer group. You can create your own women’s group at work, or come and join us in the Women Rising program and get an inbuilt support network as well as the tools to build radical confidence.
At the end of the day, remember this: you are here for a reason. In this job, your business, your life. You are worthy. You are better than you think you are. You are smarter than you think you are. You know more than you give yourself credit for. Remember that. Remind yourself as often as you need to.