Imposter Syndrome is where you feel like you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing or that you don’t belong, and the people around you know it as well, and could call you out on it
Coach Viv says it’s a very common fear that people of all career levels will likely experience
She recommends to stop comparing yourself to others, and to talk about it with other people, as they have likely felt it before and can relate to you
DO NOT READ THIS ARTICLE. THE AUTHOR IS AN IMPOSTOR.
(Editor's note: She's not.)
Ever feel like you’re just winging it with your career? We’ve all had days like that. But when you’re in a constant state of self-doubt about your abilities and are unable to internalise your achievements it has a name - Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome is the belief that you’ll be called out as a fraud – that you don’t actually know what the hell you’re doing and that people around you know it too. In your mind, others are more qualified, gifted or deserving. You, on the other hand, are just lucky or were in the right place at the right time. In your mind, you are just one mistake away from losing your career. It’s a psychological phenomenon that chips away at professional confidence and leads to unfounded feelings of inadequacy. Basically, it’s next level self-sabotage. And if you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone.
Identified by two American psychologists (Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes) in 1978 they describe it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”
The Impostor in me is asking: “Am I even qualified to be writing about this stuff?” Yep, but once upon a time I would have had serious doubts. When I started work as a music publicist I felt like a pretender, even years after the training wheels came off. I understood the feelings but didn’t know ‘it’ had a name. When I became a coach, my impostor friend came back with a vengeance. I had to work hard to overcome the same feelings.
This pest pops up a lot in my coaching practice. Career professionals - managers, publicists and musicians (yes, even the successful ones) - seemingly at the top of their game, struggling with the self-doubt that they’re not actually qualified and their work is no good. They are the masters of downplaying their success.
Impostor Syndrome presents in many different ways, but the common denominator is that we’re undermining ourselves - robbing ourselves of opportunities because we’re too fearful of getting out of our comfort zone.
HOW THE IMPOSTOR TAKES OVER
- You have a chronic fear of being exposed as a fraud.
- You’re unable to internalise accomplishments, no matter how small.
- You put your success down to luck or timing or other external forces.
- You feel inferior to others. You can’t celebrate your successes.
- You don’t value your worth because you feel you’re not ‘qualified’ enough and therefore aren’t able to negotiate a proper wage.
- You feel uncomfortable accepting positive feedback or praise (and discount it). Others may see you as competent, but you still see yourself as incompetent.
- You hold back good ideas and avoid expressing opinions that aren’t in line with the group.
- You feel you’re not worthy of your current position (let alone a new one).
- You find it difficult to make decisions.
- You’re afraid of new challenges - you play it safe.
- Your default position is to say no to new opportunities.
- You are (almost always) a perfectionist.
Paradoxically you will probably have the twin fears of failure and success. Neither are an option so you’re stuck in limbo. You feel unworthy of success but are terrified to make the mistakes that sometimes go along with taking acceptable risks.
So, what to do with this unhelpful friend?
SHAKE IT OFF
Perfectionists, I’m looking at you!
Not surprisingly, perfectionism and Impostor Syndrome are besties. Impostors hold themselves to near impossible standards of perfection — they expect themselves to accomplish any task flawlessly, otherwise it is deemed a ‘failure’. If you continually set the bar at a level of perfection, disappointment will be a constant. Try to take a more realistic approach – focus on the value you bring rather than dwelling excessively on perceived mistakes.
Own your successes
Most people with Impostor Syndrome have an easier time focusing on their failures and mistakes, rather than on their accomplishments. It is important to have a balance. Write down a list of things that you have achieved in the last year, small and large. You don’t just look good on paper; remember you’ve accomplished each and every achievement you’ve written down. Give yourself credit, where credit is due.
Stop comparing yourself to others
When you’re in this chronic state of self-doubt, it’s easy to assume that everyone else has got their act together. You only have access to your own self-doubt so it’s easy to come to the conclusion that your self-doubt is telling the full story. We’re not really comparing objectively either, often comparing our weaknesses to others people’s strengths. The reality is that many people – friends, neighbours and colleagues - are struggling, just like you. Comparisons will get you nowhere.
There will always be things you don’t know
Getting it wrong doesn’t make you a fraud. It makes you human. Sometimes your colleagues will know more than you, sometimes it will be the other way around. Embrace what you don’t know and try not to glorify mistakes.
Talk about it
Ask your friends, family and work colleagues if they experience symptoms of Impostor Syndrome and I guarantee you’ll be surprised by how many say ‘yes’. Talking about it will normalise Impostor Syndrome, thus taking some of its power away.
Know that the imposter lives in (most of) us
It lives, at some point, within about 70% of the population apparently. From the person you sit next to at work to successful music artists like Chris Martin and Lada Gaga. Plus Jodie Foster, Emma Watson, Kate Winslet, Amy Adams, Natalie Portman, author Maya Angelou – the list goes on and on. Even Meryl Streep for crying out loud! They’ve all confessed to impostor syndrome.
If you’re plagued with self-doubt, you’re not alone. As Tina Fey a self-described impostor once said: “Everyone else is an impostor, too.”
I’d love to hear from you! If you’d like to share your Impostor Syndrome story with me please reach out to [email protected]
Coach Viv XO
Viv Fantin is an accredited personal coach who works with people who want to identify, set, and achieve realistic goals. She has seen all kinds of crazy as a music and festival publicist. Now in her second act, she is passionate about stress management and is on the never-ending quest to find the perfect work–life balance. She loves chai tea, music, reading and sitting in a dark cinema on a hot day.
For more info visit www.nextactcoaching.com.au or Next Act Coaching on Facebook