Impostor syndrome is a phenomenon that affects so many people in the workplace today. Some of the most highly respected, qualified people in their field quietly feel like frauds at work. The only reason I know is because I’ve been one of them and have worked with people challenged by the issue every week.
Even the most intelligent and creative geniuses walking among us aren’t exempt from it. Like the current coronavirus pandemic, it doesn’t differentiate. Whether you’re a highly successful CEO of one of the worlds biggest brands or just starting out on a graduate scheme, impostor syndrome is painfully ubiquitous.
It’s not personal, it’s nothing to do with our performance and everything to do with our minds.
Impostor syndrome is the insidious thought that you don’t feel as though you belong, its only a matter of time before everyone see you for who you really are.
Nobody likes it and nobody talks about it because it hurts like hell and giving it any headspace at all makes it far worse. So, we ignore it, bury it, deny it and tell ourselves it’s just who we are.
Often, the harder you work, the more you achieve and the more you climb the ladder of success the worse it gets.
For many, the anxiety peaks when we are called on to share our knowledge and expertise through public speaking or presenting in business.
It goes a bit like this.
You’re delivering your presentation and your mind is telling you loudly and clearly that you have no right to be there. You struggle to focus and become obsessed by the belief that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. The anxiety heightens exponentially, with the fear that the moment the audience asks you a question, they’ll finally see what a fraud you are.
Like so many things in life people who struggle with impostor syndrome just want that ‘magic pill’ or that ‘silver bullet’. They just want it to go away now and are happy to pay whatever it takes to find the ‘hack’.
There isn’t one, although there is a great deal you can do to learn to live with, manage and gradually overcome the challenge.
An article in Impostorsyndrome.com offers ‘10 STEPS YOU CAN USE TO OVERCOME IMPOSTOR SYNDROME’ . I personally, like, have used and share 2 of the tips.
‘Break the silence. Shame keeps a lot of people from “fessing up” about their fraudulent feelings. Knowing there’s a name for these feelings and that you are not alone can be tremendously freeing.’
‘Develop a new script. Your script is that automatic mental tapes that starts playing in situations that trigger your Impostor feelings. When you start a new job or project instead of thinking for example, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” try thinking, “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.”
This TedEd talk is particularly helpful:
In ‘9 Ways to Deal with Imposter Syndrome Before It Hinders Your Success’ my two favourite suggestions are:
‘Know you’re not alone – When you have impostor syndrome, some of the most important encouragement comes from realizing how many hugely successful people, both male and female, have built amazing careers even while regularly coping with it.’
‘Talk about it with a mentor and your manager. No one should suffer in silence. Sharing your thoughts and experiences with someone else will make you better equipped to deal with your impostor syndrome. We recommend sharing them with both a mentor and your direct manager.’
From the article ‘6 Strategies to Help You Beat Imposter Syndrome’ the two strategies that have worked for me and that I have recommended to others is:
‘Own your achievements. It’s hard to accept praise for your accomplishments when you feel like you didn’t deserve it, that you were just lucky, or worse, that anyone could’ve done exactly what you did. However, that’s not true. You did the task the only way you could have done it and applied your unique knowledge and skills.’
‘Stop comparing yourself to others. Alternatively, media can leave feeling worse as we compare ourselves to others. The truth is that someone will likely be better. However, that’s okay. Instead of using that to make you feel bad, use their work to better yours.’
In the Forbes article ‘15 Ways To Overcome ‘Imposter Syndrome’ In The Workplace’, I like these two pieces of advice:
‘Interrupt the Pattern with Service. This is an idea for the moments when you are feeling like an imposter. Instead of attempting to immediately solve a bigger psychological thinking pattern, interrupt the pattern. You can’t think about yourself when you are doing something for someone else. Volunteer your action in a tangible, physical way. Disrupt your insecurity with new energy and enjoy the resulting sense of accomplishment.’
‘Focus on What You Can Give. The limbic brain is concerned with only one thing: survival. It controls your flight or fight response when we feel threatened or emotionally exposed. You can quiet the limbic brain by focusing on what you can give in any situation. Try these flips: “Will they like me?” “What do I have to offer? They want my job.” “What’s our common purpose? Am I smart enough?” “What skills can I bring to this?”
I really believe that there is some strong advice here which I have used to good effect and shared over the years. Rather than simply relying on the ideas of others it would be remiss of me to not share my own personal experience.
You are more than you think
I realise of course that there is a growing scope of thought that we are all nothing more than flesh and bones and that we are all here by accident for no purpose at all. Personally, I’ve never believed this, I’ve always subscribed to the idea that we are all part of something phenomenal that we will never be able to understand or explain with the conscious mind. For me, that means that we serve no useful purpose by playing small and underselling ourselves.
I’ve always believed that the purpose of life is to learn, grow, create and contribute. Impostor syndrome doesn’t serve any of us well in meeting and fulfilling those objectives. The mindful awareness, recognition and acceptance of a purpose way beyond just working and living will serve us well.
Countless souls have gone before us and will come after us. Many of those who have lived over centuries haven’t had the gifts that we have been afforded today. Many have died with, ‘Their music still in them’.
As well as the advice offered in the articles I’ve shared I also believe that:
– We need to constantly remind ourselves who we are. How far we have come and the countless challenges and obstacles we have overcome.
– That we should never look up to or down to anyone. We really are all the same in terms of value, worth and existence.
– Our job is to serve and make a difference; everything else is meaningless.
– We have all been gifted with a unique and powerful voice and we owe it to ourselves and the world to learn how to use it.
– A belief is nothing more than a thought we play back to ourselves over and over again until it appears true for us. It’s not true, it’s just a repeated thought.
– Nobody is an impostor unless we choose to live that way.
The impostor syndrome phenomenon is sadly something that most people try to ignore. Far too many people affected by impostor feelings don’t realize they could be living some other way. I’m here to tell you that it is possible, especially when it comes to public speaking and presenting.
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