How to beat the imposter inside of you
Are you questioning your ability to do that thing which everyone else thinks you’d be so good at or wondering how you’re going to cope in that new role you just “somehow” landed? If you're afraid you're about to get found out, read on for my 5 top tips for overcoming Imposter Syndrome.
Are you questioning your ability to do that thing which everyone else thinks you’d be so good at, wondering how you’re going to cope in that new role you just “somehow” landed, or simply just questioning your ability to parent like the Jones’ next door?
You may not realise just how commonly it’s experienced because let’s face it, it’s not something we talk about in everyday conversation, but Imposter Syndrome is something that I witness in many of my clients and in general as I network with fellow entrepreneurs and leaders from all walks of life.
Everyone is talking about it – so what is it?
Studies by psychologists in the late 1980s have shown that up to 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their life. But this number is likely to be higher as modern lifestyles provide us with a tangled web of responsibilities, increasing transparency of achievements and a melting pot of self-doubt.
It’s that feeling that you’re a fraud - there’s no proof that you deserve to be here. It’s all down to luck. You don’t deserve a seat at the table and you’re going to get found out any day now.
The trouble with it is, because we feel immense self-doubt, like we are ‘not good enough’ and somehow fraudulently got to where we have, we often work harder to make up for our perceived ‘ineptness’. This, in turn, often leads to further success which triggers more feelings of being an imposter and that at some point we will get ‘found out’, and so the cycle continues. Sufferers experience high levels of stress and anxiety during this period as they often drive hard for perfection. Sometimes it can also lead to procrastination or avoidance of specific situations or challenges through severe lack of self-belief or an unwillingness to complete tasks any less than perfectly – self sabotaging behaviours.
Imposter Syndrome isn’t reserved for those of us who might not feel they’ve quite made it in life. It’s prevalent amongst even the most successful people in our society. In fact, it’s experienced by almost everyone at some time.
Take Jodie Foster, a much applauded Oscar winning actress, who once said ‘When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take it back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, “Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That it was going to Meryl Streep.”’
But the funny thing is, Meryl Streep is at it too! She once remarked on Imposter Syndrome, ‘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?”’
To us, as bystanders, we find it hard to believe that the Hollywood elite or indeed anyone of such credibility and notoriety could ever feel this self-doubt, but of course even they are human and it seems Imposter Syndrome is an inherently human experience which we all have in common at some time or other, no matter your role in life or your gender.
My personal insight is that without it, the human race would not be where it is. If we didn’t push ourselves to do better, to earn our seat at that table, how many of the brilliant discoveries and innovations would have happened throughout human history? It has served a valuable purpose in our survival and ability to thrive as a human race. But it’s not always so helpful.
What causes it?
It was originally thought that only women suffered with imposter syndrome and we now know this is not the case.
Tom Hanks once said "No matter what we've done, there comes a point where you think, 'How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?'”.
It is however, believed to be particularly prevalent in women in senior or technical roles or self-employment, as well as in minorities. Some schools of thought attribute this to the impact of breaking gender or cultural stereotypes as well as feeling ‘different’ to your peers. Breaking the ‘rules of belonging’ to our social systems. It appears it is very much linked to being brought up with strong values or expectations around achievement which many people relate to, and when expected to perform at a level you don’t yet feel comfortable with or proven in – that you don’t have the data to evidence. An experience many of us have in university, the modern workplace and even in important life roles, such as parenthood or being that providing spouse.
What can I do about it?
Now that we know all of us have the potential to experience Imposter Syndrome from time to time, what can we do about it? Well, the first stage is always self-awareness - identifying that this is happening. Often people don’t know they are experiencing imposter syndrome, they just feel stuck in negative cycles or that they are not living up to expectations. Many are just able to articulate overwhelm, over thinking their decisions and self-doubt, or extreme stress and anxiety as they work relentlessly to prove themselves.
Once we identify it, it’s about understanding that these are thoughts being created in your brain and that therefore you have control over what you do about them. It is a state not a trait and therefore can be overcome.
Here’s my top 5 tips for overcoming Imposter Syndrome and making it work for you not against you:
- Talk about it! A huge part of this experience is isolation – the feeling that you’re the only one that doesn’t deserve a seat at the table; everyone else deserves it and you don’t. With 70% (or more) of us feeling like this, it is highly likely the people close to you will be experiencing it too and you can’t possibly all be imposters. What I like to say is it is ‘Normal not terminal’ and sometimes just sharing and making a connection with a fellow sufferer can be incredibly empowering.
- Know your worth – write down all of your strengths and everything you have achieved in your life and read it out to someone. Really connect with and own everything you wrote down and use this as a mental toolkit that you use to argue with the voice in your head that says otherwise.
- Learn to see others more objectively – comparison and a tendency to view others’ strengths and successes more than their weaknesses, while we focus almost primarily on our own weaker areas and ignore our achievements, is a huge part of the work we must do to overcome Imposter Syndrome. Take the rose-tinted glasses off and see the people behind the successful caricatures you create of them. Understand that no one is perfect and there is no ‘normal’. We all have different super-powers which is what makes us uniquely brilliant – and as always, our biggest strength is often our biggest weakness. This is true for everyone.
- Build self-care into your regime – ensure you don’t overwork or overthink yourself to burn out by building time into your regime to relax and switch off. Have friends and family hold you accountable to this.
- Seek professional support - whether that be coaching, therapy, 121 or group work, consider what support might be most useful for you and seek it out before it escalates further.
"It’s helpful to have some arrogance with paranoia. If we were all paranoia, we’d never leave the house. If we were all arrogance, no one would want us to leave the house." – Chris Martin, Coldplay.
Life isn’t black and white, it’s many shades of grey in-between and to have an existence entirely without Imposter Syndrome maybe isn’t feasible, perhaps not even preferable, but we can learn to focus it usefully and feed our inner “go get ‘em” tiger with practice and persistence...and a little help along the way.
Tracy James is a Life Coach and Team and Leadership coach based in Berkshire. In her private ‘Aimed and Changerous™’ coaching practice she specialises in helping people gain control of their thinking to help them thought hack their way to better choices and more contented lives.
For daily self-coaching tips check out her Insta stories @brightyellowcoaching Subscribe to her newsletter at www.brightyellowcoaching.com/n..., or contact her direct on firstname.lastname@example.org for a free initial 30 minute chat about what you could achieve together.