Imposter syndrome. Something I have thought and talked about for a long time to many people in all sorts of places doing all sorts of jobs. I originally wrote about this in 2016 following a series of lunchtime learning events to colleagues on this topic. The purpose of this refreshed article is to share some new learning in case its of use or interest to anyone else.First thing people ask me when I talk about imposter syndrome is what is it. The Wikipedia definition goes something like this
…..“impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be”………
Hands up if this resonates with you? yes? well, at times, me too and as it turns out, I’ve met lots of other people that relate to it as well from all walks of life, in all sorts of jobs, young, middling and older, male and female. CEOs, to Directors to middle managers to people just starting out.
I felt this most recently on day 1 of a long anticipated professional development opportunity, sat in a room full of amazing, bright, shiny people. We were all there to do the same thing. Learn. My imposter went into overdrive telling me that the other participants were all brighter and shinier than me and that I’d soon get found out. Perhaps it was a mistake going on the course, I was fine as I was.
So, instead of continuing with the internal dialogue, one of the things I did differently was to risk showing up with it in the room. I named it, there and then. It turned out that I wasn’t the only person who felt like that. It turned out that I was in good company.
If you ever feel like that too then it turns out that we are often all in good company.I started to wonder, can it be a good thing, this imposter syndrome, this fear of being found out, of good luck running out, as though you are a fraud that will be uncovered soon?
Some people say yes because people who recognise the signs of this in themselves are often more conscientious, work hard so as to not get found out, cross every t and dot every i kind of people. The kind of people who often promise less than they actually deliver. The sort of people that would only apply for a job if they were 99 % sure that they could do it. Working hard, delivering more than you say, conscientious all sound like good things but the flip side for many people is an inability to celebrate success, inability to ask for help, with a tendancy to be perfectionist at any cost, to overperform with little sense of effort being proportionate to the task at hand. I know for me, having a perfectionist driver (and a hurry up driver to hold its hand!!), that I often have to encourage myself to recognise when good enough is good enough.
Some people become stressed and tired, unable to speak up or give opinions for fear of not knowing enough about a topic, become stuck in the same job because of a fear of not being competent enough to achieve promotion.
Others procrastinate endlessly, unable to complete work for fear of something not being perfect or become afraid to innovate or take risks for fear of getting something wrong. Over the sessions I delivered to colleagues and the coaching work I now do with clients, a range of top tips for dealing with this has come up over and over again.
One of the key things I do now when my imposter starts chatting in my ear is to say ok, what’s the evidence for that view. On the last occasion, sat on Day 1 of my course,
I asked myself – ok, what evidence do you have that in a learning situation you usually find yourself with nothing valuable to add, say, participate in etc. Not very much !Show up as you are, name it if it feels appropriate. You never know who you might inspire to show up too ! Talk to a loved one, family, friend, therapist, coach if you feel it but are not in a position to be able to name it out loud. Talk to others – if you feel that this is an issue for you, talk to others and you may find other people that feel the same. Hugely supportive and liberating to know you are not alone. If you make mistakes, as we all do from time to time, then forgive yourself, don’t unpick and go over them endlessly. Accept the mistake, find the learning and move on. Ask for feedback. Talk to a trusted colleague, mentor or coach about particular meetings, pieces of work, times when you felt uncomfortable and like an imposter – get their perspective and use it to challenge your view of yourself. Get to know yourself – work out when and where your stress points are and when its more likely you will feel self doubt. If you are in a new job then maybe keep a reflective journal for the first 3 months – re read and see how far you have come over the first few weeks and months. Accept that feelings of self doubt are normal for certain situations, rather than as a sign of ineptness on your part. Learn to notice your successes, even if you have to involve others in this to help you identify them at first. Try and celebrate one good thing each week.
Think about areas where you feel less confident. Find others who you can learn from. Ask them what their top tips are for dealing with whatever situation you find difficult. Giving presentations, speaking in meetings, managing difficult people. There will be people around you who do some of these things well and most people love to be asked to share their top tips of things they have learnt along the way. Recognise when you are procrastinating, polishing, perfecting and performing over and above what the task requires. Think about what the worse thing that could happen is. Recognise that its likely that your version of good is probably 150% better than the average. Realise when good enough is good enough and learn to do as the song says and let it go. Spend time imagining your success. If you have a situation coming up which worries you then think about it being a success. Think about presenting a paper in a meeting. Imagine walking into the room, imagine siting down at the table, think about how you will start the discussion, think about the 3 key points you want to get across, imagine a positive reception, a good outcome, leaving the meeting having achieved what you hoped to. Think about the fact that you have as much right to ask for help as anyone else. Think about helping someone else, even if you don’t feel like an expert in the topic. Everyone has to start somewhere when they are learning something new. You may well be the most experienced person in the room, even if you don’t feel like it. Think about the way you speak about yourself, your skills, how you introduce yourself to other people.
Think about language and how many times you hear people saying things like “oh me, I’m just the….” , “I’ve been asked to do this but I don’t really know much about…..”Use LinkedIn or another mechanism to track your accomplishments. Ask for recommendations from people and learn to recognise what other people value about what you do. If this doesn’t resonate with you but you recognise it in a team member then think about what you can do to support them. If its someone you manage then think about how to help them recognise their strengths, give them regular feedback. Watch for signs of perfectionism and burn out. And finally, if you have something or a tip to add or this has made you think or learn something then please comment or share. Thank you