THRIVING BEYOND IMPOSTER SYNDROME
I am sure we have all suffered from Imposter Syndrome more than once in our lives both professionally and personally – I know I certainly have – but why is it such a taboo subject? Surely being out of our depth and beyond our comfort zone is one of the best ways to stretch ourselves, learn and do what we previously thought was impossible for us (but not other people) to achieve?
Imposter syndrome is a persistent psychological pattern where people doubt their accomplishments and fear being ‘found out’ as a fraud and unworthy of being in the position that they are in. Any measure of success that they have achieved is due to luck and opportunity.
It can affect multiple parts of our life – whether it be at work, whether we are the best child/ sibling/parent/spouse we can be who never loses their temper, how we feel about our looks and health, our financial situation, how many friends we genuinely have and more. And often involves comparing ourselves to others who we believe are more successful in those elements.
This sense of inadequacy can often lead to destructive and self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors manifested in a multitude of ways. This can range from having an inability to delegate to others and micromanaging when you do because you don’t trust that they can deliver to your high standards; to covering up your insecurities by overworking but neglecting other areas of your life; or avoiding challenges due to fear of failure which you believe would be the worst possible outcome leading to a narrow skill (and mind) set. Others have described how it can lead to a vicious cycle of procrastination and ‘analysis paralysis’ – which in turn leads to a further sense of failure and disbelief in one’s inability to achieve outcomes to such an extent that decisions are avoided and action isn’t taken which starts to impact the organisation and people around you.
The interesting thing is that you are usually the only one who thinks you are a fraud and everyone else’s perception of you and your ability to rise to the challenge is much more positive than your own. Whether it is feeling terribly nervous when public speaking and thinking of the mistakes you made or the point you forgot to mention (but actually everyone else thought you were a confident, calm and credible presenter) or being asked to lead a very high profile global work project for the first time or asking someone out on a date and wondering why on earth they said yes.
However, like all forms of stress, it can be somewhat helpful to have a sense of fear when taking on a new challenge that stretches you. The trick is to recognise your feelings, acknowledge that you may not have all the answers and that you don’t have to be better than everyone else but just to be the best that you can be, at that time. People wouldn’t have put you in the position you are in if they didn’t think you could achieve strong results. I would also suggest reducing your social media exposure especially if that is a key trigger for feelings of inadequacy. Basically, be a bit kinder to yourself and don’t worry so much about what others think. The reality is, they may well be comparing themselves to you and feeling that they don’t measure up!
As mentioned, to an extent having Imposter Syndrome can be helpful if it doesn’t lead to analysis paralysis as it can prompt you to rise to the challenge. For example, if it is something you don’t have experience in; you can start to become an expert through reading, it can help you to build relationships by asking for help and insights, expand your thinking and creative problem solving and best of all – hopefully, achieve a great outcome that exceeds your own expectations. The key is to make sure you recognise the signs of it arising and don’t dwell in the land of procrastination but just keep taking steps forward – even taking small actions generally lead to increased confidence and greater self-belief – which in turn leads to further action and positive feedback. Also, ensure that you have the support around you to ensure that you are indeed successful and a trusted confidante to share any fears you may have along the way.
The more that leaders of all backgrounds courageously share their own experiences of Imposter Syndrome, even when they look like they are super successful and in control in all parts of their life to the outside world; the more it normalises those feelings and allows greater honesty both in the workplace and personal lives.