Countless leaders deal with imposter syndrome, which is a major obstacle to our own success. Aiming to eliminate this unhealthy thinking, I share how to deal with this issue, from simple journaling exercises to looking inward, resisting the unnecessary feeling of perfectionism.
Check out this episode if you want to learn:
- Why naming your imposter syndrome is a vital first step to tackling it
- Which questions you need to be asking yourself
- How to inspire others with your journey beyond imposter syndrome
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Imposter Syndrome: How To Dispel This Major Obstacle To Personal Growth
Have you ever felt like an imposter? Were you fearful that people may find out about your skills? If you have ever felt that way, you’re not alone: 70% of professionals admit feeling like they are ‘getting away with something’.
While there is lots of literature on imposter syndrome, I want to focus more on you. I’m going to help you recognize its tell-tale signs, and propose a strategy that boosts your confidence.
The History of Imposter Syndrome
I’m not going to bore you with all the details, so here’s a quick background: imposter syndrome was first researched back in 1978. The subjects of the study were 150 award-winning women academics, all published authors who were celebrated for their work.
When they were interviewed about their accomplishments, the academics would say they ‘got lucky’, or happened to be in the right place at the right time. A trend became to emerge: the subjects were deflecting their achievements, saying, ‘it wasn’t me, it was something outside of me that created my success.’
Have you ever done the same? How much energy do we put behind deflection, when it’s just so much easier to accept the compliment?
In leadership, we talk about what our role is in terms of mentoring, coaching and supplying resources to the people around us. However, being open to receiving is just as integral to leadership. Just as we give our teams feedback and recognition for their work, we have to be equally open to receiving it in return.
What Are You Putting Out There?
When we allow ourselves that freedom, we’re also reinforcing that others around us can see that and copy us. People do follow the leader, so what are you putting out in the world?
Again, 70% of us as professionals feel imposter syndrome sometimes. Think of situations where you’re feeling unprepared. Somehow, someway, you get it done. It may not be in the way you imagined it to be, or have the results that you expected — but at the end of the day, you get it done.
From there, you can build momentum from having taken action.
Oftentimes, we feel like an imposter if we feel we’re not at a certain level. But remember, imposter syndrome doesn’t discriminate — people can feel it at any point in their lives and career.
These are people who are in the public spotlight, who have shared their experiences with imposter syndrome.
One person that drew my attention is Jodie Foster, accomplished actor, producer and director. She started off in the entertainment business at a very young age. After she won an Oscar for her role, she had an interview with 60 Minutes.
When reflecting on her feelings after winning the Oscar, Foster said, “I thought everyone would find out and (…) come to my house, knock on the door and say, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else.’ That was going to Meryl Streep, another famous actress.”'If you can name your good traits, you can claim them.' Click To Tweet
Michelle Obama, you might have heard of her. She was speaking with a group of students in the UK, saying, “[Imposter syndrome] doesn’t go away, that feeling that ‘you shouldn’t take me seriously. What do I know?’ I share that with you because we all have doubts (about) our abilities, about our power, and what that power is.”
Here’s a woman who was the former First Lady of the United States, who championed education, health and wellness. Despite all of the initiatives that she did, she’s still feeling like, ‘Why do people listen to me?’
I’ll share with you one more. You’ve heard of Albert Einstein, and I love this quote that he had in regards to the recognition of his work: ‘The exaggerated esteem in which my life work is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.’
The Common Themes of Imposter Syndrome
There are common factors between all three of these experiences.
- One is, ‘Why would anyone listen to me? What do I have within myself that would be a value to other people?’
- The second one is questioning other people’s assessment, saying things like, ‘Did you truly see my performance, compared, to all these other well-accomplished people around me?’
It can sound a little ridiculous when we hear others say it, but how often are you saying it to yourself, each and every day — or hearing others say it about themselves?
Imposter syndrome doesn’t go away. There’s always going to be doubt, fear, and trepidation creeping up in moments when we’re feeling a little unsure about what’s expected of us.
There are different ways in which we demonstrate that. We might overcompensate, to make sure that we give everyone reason to believe that we’re the perfect person, that we can get this done. How does that show up? It shows up as perfectionism.
If it’s not perfect, it’s a reflection on you.
Perfectionism is a myth. Can you think of any one thing that’s perfect, that is made by a human being, that could not be modified or adjusted down the road?
Will there be mistakes? Absolutely. Will you learn from them? Hopefully. Will the people around you make mistakes? Yes. Will there be learning opportunities? Yes.
Think of the superhero: they’re the go-to person for everyone on the team, working crazy hours. If they don’t contribute at that level, they feel like they’re not contributing at all.
It’s not a sustainable way to work, and will lead to burn out.
Imposter syndrome can also trick you into thinking that you need to be an expert before you start something. There’s a whole lot of information out there in the world. How much is going to be good enough?
Recognizing Imposter Syndrome Within Yourself
We all manifest perfectionism in different ways. Perfectionism is a whole lot of energy for what is just a myth. It’s a fool’s journey to think, ‘Eventually, I’m going to become perfect.’ That will never happen.
If you’re constantly looking at what you do in comparison to others, you’re always going to feel like you’re not good enough. But ask yourself: ‘Am I ever going to get to that point of perfection?’ No. ‘Do I need to?’ No.
Instead, consider what you bring to the table that works for you and those around you. Do you know what the elements of that are?
Likewise, maybe you’ve brushed off people who have given you compliments — and eventually, they stopped coming. You might start looking for recognition, but realize that you’ve pushed people away. Those people are thinking, ‘You don’t like receiving compliments, so why should I bother?’ In turn, that reinforces the imposter syndrome within you, and you wonder what you’re doing wrong.
You’re in a position of leadership for a reason. Somewhere, someone looked at you and said, ‘I can learn from this person, and gain new knowledge and abilities from them.’
You might be wondering, ‘but how would they know that?’ Well, here’s an example.'You can always gain new knowledge, abilities, and skills that you currently don't have from the group of people you belong in.' Click To Tweet
The Dreaded Job Interview
Let’s go to your traditional job interview. One time, I asked a client, ‘why would X company hire you?’ They replied, ‘I don’t know.’ This might be similar to conversations you’ve had with colleagues, friends, and family. It doesn’t even make sense!
Anytime there is a job opportunity, the first thing that they ask for is your resume. At its core, what is your resume? It’s a data-sheet of your skills and experiences that you are promoting to other people, for the opportunity to work with them.
It doesn’t have to be a resume — it can also be a proposal to a client you’re looking to work with. Or if you’re looking for funding, it might be a statement that lends credibility to how’ll be leading your organization and using that capital.
In any one of those situations, you’re pulling from somewhere. The data is coming from you. If this is the information people are making decisions with, and they decide to hire you, then there must be something in it.
OK, I Have Imposter Syndrome — What Now?
So, where do we go from here? How do we tackle imposter syndrome once we’ve recognized it?
First off, we need to take a step back. Whenever I catch myself deflecting a compliment, I question myself: ‘What am I doing? Why am I saying that?’
Tune In To Your Feelings
The first step is being aware of your thinking. By expression: ‘If you can name it, you can claim it.’
When you deflect a compliment, you feel like you’re not doing enough to deserve it. When you can label it, you’ll be better off.
Are you doing it because you’re trying to be a perfectionist, an expert, a superhero or a soloist — someone who struggles with asking others for help, feeling that others may not be as competent, or that you have to prove your own worth through your productivity level?
Start to hone in on your feelings.
Name Your Feelings
Once you know how you’re feeling, what’s a phrase that you can use to put it out of your mind — a motivational mantra or caption that becomes your inner guide?
The first time I had to do public speaking in a large room, I was terrified out of my mind. I thought, ‘There are more qualified people in this room than me. Why would they want to hear from me?’
What worked for me was taking a step back and recognizing my feelings, and then asking, ‘What’s my caption? What’s my groove that gets me up and rolling?’
I have some expressions I come up with. One is, ‘You’ve got this.’ I kept repeating it, because it gets the juices flowing until I really did feel like, ‘I got this’.
What is the voice you put behind your actions? Michelle Obama says, ‘I am good enough. That’s why I’m here.’ What’s that positive statement for you, that validation of who you are?
Take Stock Of Your Achievements
The third step in this is for you to take an inventory. How did you get to where you are today?
Take stock of all the skills you’ve developed over time — your work experiences, whether that be volunteer or paid. It can be the people that you’ve met, and what you’ve learned from them. The education that you’ve been able to get, whether it’s been through workshops, formal education or learning that you’ve done on your own.
Pulling all those data points together helps you see why you’re a leader in your organization or community.
Who Is Your Anchor?
Most importantly, who are the people in your inner circle — those who can hold you accountable, and be an anchor for you, to talk you off the ledge?
For me, my wife is one of those champions. Regardless of where I may be in the world — even if it’s just texts or a quick phone call — I can share what I’m feeling. I can say, ‘You know I can do this. I need you to tell me that.’ And she does.
Who is that one person in your life that can be that anchor, that positive reinforcement? It’s someone who understands who you are, believes in you and knows fully well why you are in the role that you’re in. Write down their name.
Finally, Write It All Down.
Part of the process of getting beyond imposter syndrome is making time at the end of the day to reflect. When you have those thoughts, record them on paper somewhere and put them away. If you have a journal, sit down and ask yourself: ‘why do I put so much power in these feelings, when the real-life proof is different?’
As a leader, if you’re having these feelings, what’s the likelihood that someone else on your team is feeling it, too? If you’re taking action to strengthen your foundation, others can learn from you, and navigate their own imposter syndrome with your guidance.
With your help, they can come to see their power, influence and skill — owning their space and honouring that within themselves.'Perfectionism is a whole lot of energy, and it's a myth.' Click To Tweet
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