How to spot and deal with the imposter syndrome.

Do you secretly worry that others will find out that you’re not as bright and capable as they think you are?

Do you sometimes shy away from challenges because of nagging self doubt?

Or chalk up your accomplishments to being a ‘fluke’, “just Lucky’ and ‘no big deal’?

If you have answered yes to any of the above, then whether you realise it or not, you have a case of the imposter syndrome.

Whilst the term imposter syndrome has been around since 1970’s, it’s only been in the last decade that people have been speaking publicly about it. Click To Tweet

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook admitted that she forces herself to “sit at the table, even when I’m not sure I belong there – and yes, this still happens to me.”

Actress Emma Watson also shared how “uncomfortable” she felt about her successful career and often “feels like an imposter.”

But don’t be fooled into thinking this only affects women.

The imposter syndrome affects both genders and whilst more men speak about it now, it’s still a fairly taboo subject. And yet it impacts both individuals and organisations.

Uncheck and unrecognised the imposter syndrome can prevent people reaching their full potential. Can cause stress and anxiety. Had been linked to addictions, burn-out and people quitting their jobs.

So what can we do about it?

Firstly we need to be aware of the believes and behaviours that feed this syndrome. We need to see them in action and notice the impacts, and then we can start to make different choices.

The imposter syndrome is caused by a belief in conditional worth – that our worth as a person is based solely on what we do or don’t do, and yet often we’re dismissive of our accomplishments putting them down to luck, it being a fluke or no big deal.

This is a common conversation I have with high performers, people who are at the top of their game and yet have still think that they need to achieve more.

One particular client springs to mind.

On our initial meeting she spoke about her “luck” at being in her role as a director, part of the senior management team and only female on the board.

“How is that luck?” I asked “isn’t luck the success of something bought about by chance rather than through one’s own actions? Are you saying that you did nothing to get to where you are?”

“No, of course not,” she laughed “I’ve worked my butt of to get here…”

She went to list a number of her achievements and the steps that led to her getting this role. It wasn’t luck that got her there, but hard work and effort.

Many clients, both male and female, dismiss their efforts as luck and wonder why they experience the stresses of the imposter syndrome. If you know that this is something you do, then STOP!

Take the time to note your efforts. The late nights, long days. Extra studies. Difficult conversations. Acknowledge the steps it’s taken to get to where you are now. And stop using the word lucky. Even the lottery winner puts effort in to buying a ticket!

Have you been 'lucky' or put the effort in? Even the lottery winner puts effort in to buying a ticket! Citing things as 'Luck' - is one of the symptoms of the imposter syndrome Click To Tweet

Secondly, to combat any of those nagging doubts, look for the facts.

A few years back Meryl Streep was interviewed on the red carpet at the film premier of yet another musical in which she starred.

Now whether you like her singing or not, I suspect we can agree that Meryl can hold a tune.

And yet when asked if she was going to sing that night, she replied “Oh no, I don’t sing, it’s the character that sings.”

This, for me, perfectly shows the imposter syndrome.

Meryl, as an actress, creates a character that says and does things that she wouldn’t usually do. In this instance, sing.

So when praise comes for the singing, it goes to the character, not to Meryl.

Yet the character has to use Meryl’s vocal chords, her body to sing.

So surely Meryl CAN sing??!!

How many of use do this on a day to day basis though.

We create a character, pretend we can do something, a la Sheryl’s comment at the start about sitting at the table, and then if praise is given, it goes to the character we created and not to us.

It’s not integrated.

But in the same way that Meryl’s characters uses her body and vocal chords to sing therefore Meryl can sing. Whatever you have pretended to do, you can do. Your character had to use your skills, abilities, talent and physicality to do it!

Whether that character was created to get through the job interview, project or presentation, YOU still did it!

So again, collect the praise and acknowledge your skills, abilities and talents. Make notes of them so that next time doubt comes knocking you have the proof to believe  that you can take that challenge.

Finally, although you may realise that these are highlights on this big topic, if you are worrying about whether you are as bright and capable as others think you are – check.

Are you inflating your success, knowledge, experience, or expertise?

Be honest.

Have you lied about your qualifications?

do you pretend to know more than you do?

If you answered yes to any of these, then you are likely to experience some level of internal conflict as your external behaves isn’t matching your internal knowing.

This misalignment causes discomfort, stress, and anxiety. It can lead to a worry of ‘being found out’

So again, stop it!

Notice the exaggerations and overinflation and speak as closely to the truth as appropriate and possible.

If required, get the qualifications. Be careful not to fall into the trap of perfection here and becoming addicted to qualification collecting, that also feeds the imposter syndrome by believing that you aren’t enough. But get the qualifications that are required for your industry.

And again, speak authentically where it’s appropriate. I appreciate that not all environments support this, but more and more do these days.

If you don’t know something say ‘I Don’t know’, refer to a colleague who does know or keep quiet.

We all have a BS radar and do not like being lied to.

So don’t be that person.

It could damage your reputation and will internally feed the imposter syndrome.

This is a multi layered topic.

The aim of the article is to provide you with key pointers to get started so you can reduce stress and anxiety levels and become confidently and authentically you!

And if you would like to know more about the imposter syndrome, then it’s one of the topics covered in the Leading with Belief course which you can find here 

Or email jules@juleswyman.com to find out more about talks and 1:1 coaching.

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