By Esther O Sanni
What on earth is that?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Impostor syndrome (IS) is when you do not feel good enough and fear being exposed as a fraud. It is often an inaccurate assessment of your ability and a trap that when fallen into, might be difficult to get out of. Impostor syndrome is a recognised phenomenon described by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance, professors at Georgia State University in 1978.
Did you know that 70% of successful people have suffered from IS at some point including people like Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou and Meryl Streep? Who knew.
How do you know if you have this phenomenon going on?
Here are some symptoms in addition to those mentioned above:
- Sleepless night before a presentation
- Fear of being exposed
- Fear of criticism from colleagues and superiors
- Excessive approval seeking from authoritative figures
- Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) e.g ‘I am rubbish’, ‘My work is not good enough and people will find out’.
- Self criticism
- Explaining away your successes
- Toxic stress
- Intellectual inauthenticity and flattery: minimising or hiding your opinion and elevating other people’s
How to deal with impostor syndrome?
Feeling like an imposter can sometimes be challenging to overcome and it takes consistency and changing the way you think.
Talk back. Realise the thoughts that accompany IS are a lie. Recognising and being able to name what you feel and knowing that you are not alone is freeing. So identify the thoughts and emotions that accompany IS for you and re-frame them. Sometimes to overcome an unhealthy thought, you have to speak out loud.
‘I am doing very well’, ‘I am open to learn what I don’t know’, ‘I am getting better everyday in every way’, ‘Everyone who starts something new feels off beam in the beginning. I may not have all the answers now but I am smart enough to find out’, ‘I am not where I need to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be. I am ok and I am on my way’ These are some replies you can give your inner critic.
Don’t overpromise. This is especially something to be aware of when starting a new job or a new project. It is easy to state more or do more than you can sustain in order to be seen in the best light.
Have a support network (a.k.a your TRIBE). This cannot be overemphasized. These are the people that will speak truth to you about how you are doing without trying to put you down or outdo you. This could be friends, family or people in the same situations as you. Attend more networking events to find people like you, yes they exist.
Be brave enough to be imperfect. Be patient with yourself, no one is perfect. Just keep learning and beware of self imposed standards.
Change your mindset about failure. Henry Ford said ‘Failure is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently’ So reframe your mistakes and failures.
Be ‘youthentic’. Comparison is a fools trap.
Clarify your values. When you know what you have to offer, there will be no need to pretend in order to fit. If you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything.
Clarify expectations. Be clear on what your role and responsibilities are. If you need to ask colleagues or your manager or the people around you, do so. Also know that feeling like an imposter can be a normal response to being an outsider sometimes.
Get feedback. We often have blind spots even with regards to our accomplishments. With IS you are continually denying your ability. Get other people to tell you what you are doing well, that way you can start intentionally accepting how good you are.
Therapy and coaching. Yes I said it. Break the silence. We have been sleeping on the benefits of therapy, especially group therapy in this instance. Having a neutral party in your corner with no vested interest who can be objective is indispensable. They can help you identify your self-limiting beliefs and walk you through the process of overcoming this fear. Coaching is a process that is great for accountability without the negative connotation attached to therapy.
So, which of the above steps will you take towards becoming fearless?
Remember, impostor syndrome can be a gift and a blessing in disguise, just like the other negative things we go through in life. It can increase your self awareness, create connections and nurture empathy for other people.
I found the cure for impostor syndrome; no I didn’t, I am a fraud.