Imposter Syndrome - Is it actually a good thing?

Updated: Aug 12




Imposter Syndrome can really stop us in our tracks – ambitious people, conscientious people, people with real vision – they get to a certain point, they’re building momentum and then…a crisis of confidence hits:


‘I can’t do this, I don’t have the skills, the know-how, the confidence, who do I think I am!’

It's something I have experienced myself many times around new challenges, when pushing myself forward in a new direction (which I’ve done more than once!).


Also known as Imposter Phenomenon, can be defined as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud"


It was first identified in 70s by researchers Clance and Imes. While it was initially believed to be a pattern experienced primarily by women, since then, further research has show that both men and women experience imposter syndrome… in fact, 70% of us experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in our lives! (Gravois, 2007) Have you experienced it?


It is often described as a sense of isolation, a feeling of being out of your depth and that everyone will soon find out the truth – that you’re a fraud and you don’t really know what you’re doing! For me, it’s a feeling of anxiety and slight dread – a sense of ‘oh god, I’m in over my head, I don’t know what I’m doing…I have so much to learn!


When you experience Imposter Syndrome you tend to discount your achievements – despite the fact that you have ample proof they are real. You may even attribute your success to luck, the influence of other people or circumstance.


Not all bad?


This experience does not have to be a negative one – it actually points to a good level of self-awareness and can be seen as a self-check around competence and knowledge.


On the other end of the scale is the Dunning-Kruger effect –a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.


So, those who are highly skilled and evidently good at what they do believe they are frauds and those who overestimate their abilities and knowledge believe themselves to be knowledgeable and astute leaders?!

Imagine the implications in society of these cognitive patterns?! It is in fact, really healthy to know, how much you don’t know.


How does it show up and what can you do about it?


Dr Valerie Young who’s central message goes ‘Everyone loses when bright people play small’ categorised the experience…

Can you see yourself in any of the following?


The Perfectionist

Perfectionism can throw up huge roadblocks to progress – if you fail to reach the crazy high standards you set for yourself, self-doubt and anxiety can cause you to suffer over every small detail. Focusing on the potential flaw and how it will be perceived keeps you trapped in this cycle of anxiety and inaction.

What to do about it?

Let go of the reigns a little; trying to control absolutely everything is exhausting (not to mention impossible) and will cause you to procrastinate. Decide to be happy and proceed at 90-95%. We learn as we go.


The Superwoman/man

Are you addicted to your work or rather to the validation it brings you? Working hard is of course essential to getting your career moving or your business off the ground but it has to be balanced with the rest of your life. Working to the extreme is often a way to cover up insecurities and can lead to a strain on your mental health and ultimately to burnout.

What to do about it?

Find a way to relax, bring back those hobbies that may have fallen to the wayside and remember it is your own opinion, self-belief and self-validation that is the most powerful and really the only one that matters!

We do need feedback from others to increase our self-knowledge and gain perspective but practice detaching from the feedback emotionally – don’t take it personally – you are learning. We are all learning all the time.


The Natural Genius

If you adopt a fixed mindset about your abilities and what you should be able to achieve or deliver, there is little room for growth and huge potential for disappointment. If you expect to do something and then struggle to do it, a fixed mindset approach will leave you in 'I can’t' mode. A fixed standard when it comes to your intellect or ability will keep you trapped in a cycle of frustration and unmet expectations.

What to do about it?

Reframe your abilities, talents and skills – challenge is a chance to grow and learn. A growth mindset releases any limit on your abilities and allows you to…grow! Let go of the pressure!


The Soloist

Is it difficult for you to ask for help? Independence is great but not when it leads to isolation and stress.

What to do about it?

No one is an island – no one can excel alone, ask for support. Two minds are greater than one!


The Expert

Are you always in search of training and upskilling, the next certificate? Are you an expert in your field but never allow yourself to believe it or embody it? Imposter Syndrome can appear as a fear of never knowing enough and being exposed for it.

What to do about it?

Lifelong learning is hugely important, so let’s not get confused here - we can always learn more and expand our minds and we need to stay competitive but if you’re always waiting for the right time, when your expertise is enough and all your ducks are neatly in a row, your old friend procrastination will take hold.

Go for it! We’re never really ready – that’s the essence of a challenge.

Acquire skills as you need them – learn as you go. Help others – those that are a few steps behind you – teaching is the best form of learning and leaning into your inner expert, your inner genius!


To Sum Up - Remember…


1.Leverage it

Imposter Syndrome can leave us feeling crippled with anxiety and self-doubt which can lead to inaction which will see countless ideas unexplored and issues unresolved…


or


We can choose to leverage it – bring awareness and truth to it; name it, acknowledge it, pay attention to it. The Inner Critic, that voice in your head that is less than encouraging is disarmed when you give it conscious attention! Observe what it is telling you and kindly respond ‘thanks but no thanks – don’t need that advice today!’


2. Self-Belief

Build your self-belief through mindset work and introspection and ask for support on your journey. The perspective and view of others will help you reframe the roadblocks. This is the essence of my work as a coach. I bring support, feedback and an objective soundboard to the conversation.

Sharing your experience is also key so we can empower one another.


3. Action

Inaction is where imposter syndrome thrives. Make conscious committed decisions and take action – steps forward towards your goals. By taking consistent action you are focused on the doing, not the being – not what I am but what I do.


What are you focused on today? What small actionable step can you take today?

If you’d like to have a chat about imposter syndrome or any other challenges you’re having on your career journey, let's chat:


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