Imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behaviour where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. It is not an actual disorder, however, 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 believe their success was due to luck or good timing, and may also dismiss it as another’s belief in them that they were better, more intelligent, and more competent than they actually are. And while 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.
That tiny voice in your head that tells you – “you are awful, it doesn’t matter” when in fact you are amazing at what you do, that is “Imposter Syndrome” and many of us suffer from it.
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has often admitted to feeling like an imposter at times. The civil rights activist, author, poet and Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou admitted that at times, she often felt like a fraud, once saying, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” Lady Gaga revealed, “I still sometimes feel like a loser kid in high school and I just have to pick myself up and tell myself that I’m a superstar every morning so that I can get through this day and be for my fans what they need for me to be.”
Perhaps the hardest 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.
The following are tips to beating the imposter syndrome and helping you appreciate yourself and your success more:
- Break the silence: Voice your fears and feelings to someone you are close to, it will help you understand that maybe your fears are actually baseless.
- Separate fact from feelings: There are times you may feel silly but just because you are feeling it does not mean it is true and you are silly. Remind yourself of that.
- Write down a list of your achievements, skills, and successes: It will demonstrate that you really do have concrete value to share with the world and you are amazing.
- Focus and accentuate on your positives: You may be a perfectionist with a healthy drive to excel. The trick is to not obsess over everything being just so and forgiving yourself when something doesn’t go as per plan.
- Visualise success: Do what professional athletes do- spend time beforehand picturing yourself being successful in a certain scenario- it will help with performance related stress.
- Develop a new script for your story: We run our lives based on the stories we tell ourselves and the world and that triggers the imposter feelings. Change the script from, “wait till they find out, I have no idea what I am doing” to, “ I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out”.
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 smart. You know more than you give yourself credit for. Remember that. And remind yourself as often as you need to.
I have battled imposter syndrome too and I’m not shy to admit it. I was a lawyer before I became a coach and I loved what I did. Switching careers was a decision I made for myself and my family and I don’t regret it one bit. However, when I became a coach and started my practice, I started questioning myself. How could I do well at coaching when I have come from a legal background? Why would I succeed, with such little experience? I found so many reasons for not being a good coach that it was pulling me back; until I decided that I needed to stop. I had to learn to value and respect myself and take note of all the effort I had put in to change careers. I had to focus on making a success of my life despite all the speed bumps. It was important not to take myself for granted and notice my achievements rather than letting them pass unnoticed.
If you ever felt like a fraud or imposter please firstly remember, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE”, secondly, believe in yourself and have faith in your capabilities!