#askIMPACT: The Imposter Syndrome

We’d like to introduce you to our new series, #askIMPACT, where we explore how to coach or work with someone with a distinct personality trait, identity or pattern. If there is a topic you would like us to tackle next, please feel free to let us know.

The Imposter Syndrome

Michelle has over 13 years of experience in her industry. A job opportunity came up last month for a senior role in her organization.
Michelle spent the past three weeks participating in multiple interviews with individuals of varying levels of seniority where she confidently articulated her proven track record, why she is ready to increase her level of responsibility, and how much value she would add in this role. The interviews were nerve-wracking but she felt assured and knew she was ready for this next step. A few weeks later, she received the job offer. The decision was unanimous and everyone was excited for her big career change.

The problem? Since accepting the offer, Michelle has experienced an overwhelming anxiety that she’s in over her head and people will soon find out she’s not as smart or as capable as she made herself out to be. She’s started thinking that maybe her “proven track record” was just luck, fluke, or “right place right time”. She wakes up each morning feeling like she made a mistake in thinking she could take on such a senior role.

Here’s how to overcome this negative psychological pattern affecting nearly 3 in 4 people:

At one point or another, you may have felt that annoying inner voice telling you that you’re not good enough and rattling your confidence. But when that inner voice keeps you from pursuing your dreams because of an inability to believe that you really are good enough, you could be experiencing imposter syndrome. Sometimes imposter syndrome holds individuals back from stepping out of their comfort zone and making a career change. In other instances, it sets in after the change has been made and feelings of unworthiness or fear of failure start to seep in. Imposer syndrome is a psychological pattern where individuals begin to doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a fraud.

Imposter syndrome is quite common, and particularly so with highly driven and successful individuals. In our work with high potential performers, it’s something we as coaches see quite frequently. So how do we go about helping someone combat imposter syndrome? Check out the tips below to find out how you can move past your feelings of being found out.

Normalize imposter feelings – If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, you’re not alone. According to a clinical research paper published in the Journal of Behavioural Science, an estimated 70% of the U.S. population has experienced imposter syndrome . Nobody knows everything and it’s perfectly normal to experience feelings of discontent and self doubt. While some people may feel more comfortable “winging it” or “faking it till they make it”, this does not make them more competent or intelligent than you.

Really understand the role you’ve played in your own success (and accept it!) – If you find yourself challenging the worthiness of your accomplishments, take a few minutes to actually write down what you’ve done to get to where you are now. What specific steps have you taken (i.e. relationships you’ve built, projects you’ve completed, accolades you’ve received, etc.) and what has been the outcome of those actions? Doing this exercise will allow you to visually see how you have been responsible for your own success.

Focus on creating value instead of comparing yourself to others – It can be easy to get caught up in comparing your own performance, skillset or personality to that of a colleague and believing that others deserve more than you. Instead of focusing on others, focus on what is actually within your control, and that is the value that you create. Take stock of the differences you have made and work to heighten your value proposition even further.

Get feedback from those you trust – If imposter syndrome is striking at a time of career change, it can be helpful to get feedback to give yourself the confidence boost needed to kick-start your success in a new role. Asking those that interviewed you for specific feedback about why they felt you’d be the best fit for the role could be an option. Another is to solicit feedback from those you trust and/or work closely with to find out what you can do to be most successful in your new role. Often those with imposter syndrome are high achievers who don’t have trouble performing; the problem is usually with their negative thought patters that what they do isn’t right or good enough. So if you can get specific feedback from those you’ll be working with on what your priorities should be, you can develop an action plan accordingly.

Appreciate that with a new role comes a lot of unknowns – As mentioned previously, no one is expected to know everything, but especially when you embark on a career change or new role there will naturally be a lot you don’t know. You will have to accept that and not see it as a deficiency in your performance. Instead of focusing on what you are doing (as progress can be slow until you’ve ramped up) focus on what you are learning. Visualizing how your learning has progressed from day one to day 60 (instead of what tasks have been accomplished) can give you that boost that you are taking positive steps forward.

Strive for personal development rather than perfection – Seeking perfection can sometimes be a sure-fire path to developing self-critical feelings. The pursuit of perfection can leave individuals viewing accomplishment as black or white, having either won or lost, succeeded or failed. In reality, accomplishment is never that clear-cut. Thinking about yourself and your achievements in terms of how you’ve developed (i.e. what you’ve learned, what skills you’ve gained, how you’ve impacted others, etc.) can be a healthier and kinder way of defining your success.

I’d love to hear from you. Is this a feeling you’ve ever encountered before? And if so, how did you overcome it?

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