“I don’t deserve this.”
“Someone must have made a mistake.”
“I feel like a fraud.”
“It’s only a matter of time before I’m found out.”
“If I can do this, it can’t be that hard.”
If you can identify with any of these thoughts, don’t worry: you’re not alone. In fact you may want to put the kettle on – you’ve got company. Research shows an estimated 70% of us entertain these and similar doubts on a daily basis.
These thoughts are symptoms of Imposter Syndrome, a term coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970s to describe a set of beliefs that has us feeling we are frauds, that we are in some way lacking or unworthy, that we don’t deserve our successes and it’s only a matter of time before we’re found out.
The (sort of) good news
Impostor Syndrome is only ever really a problem for high-achievers so if you recognise these ‘symptoms’ you can feel good knowing that you don’t spend time with ordinary, hang out with average or mess with mediocrity.
Sadly, that’s about as good as the good news gets.
The really bad news is Imposter Syndrome drains our energy, undermines our confidence and causes behaviours which don’t serve us or those we love, lead, parent or teach. It is pernicious and dangerous, and is wreaking havoc in all areas of our lives.
Spotting the signs
Imposter Syndrome may be taking a toll in your life if you habitually do any or all of the following:
- engage in gruelling cycles of procrastination and over-work
- side-step compliments or praise, attributing your success to external factors
- worry about what you haven’t done rather than celebrate what you’ve achieved
- approach tasks and projects as though you were being tested not trusted
- compare yourself with others – typically unfavourably
- experience the stress, exhaustion or burn-out of the ‘scarcity epidemic’
(never enough time, never good/smart/slim/pretty/successful/fill-in-your- own-blank enough)
Different for girls
Although men experience Imposter Syndrome, it is particularly prevalent, to the point of being epidemic, amongst women.
In her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, Valerie Young describes how women on all career paths and at every level are frequently plagued by Imposter thoughts.
“From the high-achieving PhD candidate convinced she’s only been admitted to the programme because of clerical error to the senior executive who worries others will find out she’s in way over her head, a shocking number of accomplished women…feel as though they are faking it – imposters in their own lives and careers.”
The hustle for worthiness
For women, Imposter Syndrome breeds and feeds on fear and anxiety and hot-houses the self-criticism, low self-esteem and lack of self-compassion so sadly prevalent in our inner dialogue or ‘self-talk’.
It also has us pin-balling between desperately trying to be good enough and fearing that we will never be good enough, what researcher and TED heroine Brené Brown calls “the hustle for worthiness.”
And this hustle leads women imposters all-too-readily to behaviours which I refer to as The Deadly P’s: Perfecting, Performing, Pleasing, Pretending and Proving. [I'll be blogging on how we can recognise and manage these particular imposters in coming weeks so if they're 'friends' of yours, do sign up below].
One of the reasons why Imposter Syndrome is so rife amongst women is because of the multiple messages in the media and beyond which subtly – and not-so-subtly - tell us we’re “never enough.”
A self-fulfilling prophecy
And research shows that our belief that we’re never enough - in leadership and in our wider lives - can sabotage our success and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We buy into it so fully that we become reluctant to showcase our skills and talents, and consistently undervalue our own knowledge and abilities.
As a consequence, we play small, passing up opportunities (promotions, pay-rises, special projects etc.) and not realising our professional or wider life goals.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
My colleague Jo Alcock and I are passionate about helping women overcome their 'imposter' beliefs which is why the first course in our new Mindful Leadership for Women Programme will be a 4-week fully-facilitated online course entitled: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Through mindful exploration of common ‘imposter’ beliefs and behaviours, we will cultivate awareness, insight, practices and skills which empower you to become the authentic, courageous, compassionate and empowering leader you long to be.
If this sounds like the leadership learning you've been longing for, please join us for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome. The next course begins November 14th 2017. Booking will open very soon. To find out more click here. If you're ready to reserve your place, contact me.