I'm a fraud! I can't do this! Whatever made me think I could lead this team...handle this job...be successful...etc.?
Does this sound like you? These are actual thoughts I've had, and not just once! Yet others see me as being very competent and successful. Why? What's the disconnect here?
What I'm describing is commonly referred to as “imposter syndrome,” “imposter phenomenon,” or even just “imposterism”.
Wikipedia defines impostor syndrome as a “psychological pattern in which one doubts one's accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.”
It’s an ongoing battle, but if you also struggle with feelings of inadequacy, whether it be in your career or even in your personal life, the impacts can be minimized. Here are five tips to get you started.
- Remember you’re not alone. The best in their fields fight feelings of inadequacy all the time. Even Meryl Streep – one of the greatest actresses of all time – has said: "You think, 'Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?'” (as told to told Ken Burns in a 2002 interview for USA Weekend.). If she feels this way, you’re in great company!
- Give up perfectionism. When we fail to meet the standard we’ve set, instead of giving ourselves grace or realizing our expectations were maybe a tad too high – way higher than anyone expected – we beat ourselves up for not meeting the impossible expectation. And when we do succeed, do we give ourselves credit? Not usually. Instead, we likely ascribe it more to luck than to our abilities. Nobody’s perfect – and that’s okay. Failures or mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow, not reasons to beat ourselves up. EVERY human who is/was great got that way by learning from their failures. Celebrate your successes – however small.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. It isn’t fair to them! You are unique. If you need proof, make a list of your strengths. Include at least twenty them (yes, you have at least that many!). Then list your interests and any special abilities you have. Keep this list handy always and add to it as things occur to you.
- Act “as if”. This is different from “fake it til you make it”, which leaves us feeling more like frauds. Instead, put on a smile when you feel down on yourself and stand up straight. Ask yourself how someone you admire would act or what they would do in a given situation, and then be like that. Try new things. Take opportunities when they are offered to you – or volunteer for one! Become an anti-procrastinator! Getting things accomplished and facing your fears will boost your overall confidence.
- Develop a sense of gratitude. This seems to be the solution for a lot of issues and it works here, too. Being grateful for the good in our lives, for our strengths and contributions (large AND small), as well as the many beautiful things around us, takes the focus off ourselves. A well-developed attitude of gratitude leads to an improvement in our overall sense of peace and reduces our internal anxieties about our performance.
Practice these on a regular basis and while you may not completely tame the “imposter”, you just might find yourself feeling a little more confident and deserving of your successes.
Do you feel like an imposter? If so, I’d love to jump on a call with you to see if I can help.
Terry Suffredini is an executive coach whose passion is helping women in male-dominated careers overcome obstacles and achieve the success they desire and deserve. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.