Have you ever felt like you weren’t qualified to do your job? Like you’re not really sure you’re cut out to do the work and someone else who’s smarter could be doing a lot better right now? Or if you’re honest with yourself, you’re pretty sure you just got lucky in the interview? And you know, you just know that someday soon, your boss will realize they’ve made a big mistake because you are way in over your head and have no idea what you’re doing?
Well, congratulations! You may have Impostor syndrome, one of the most popular trends in the world of made-up mental health conditions.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m not saying you DO have Imposter Syndrome or that there is no basis for your feeling inadequate. But seriously, think about it. You’re in an elevated position, you’re doing pretty well, you’re smart enough to know that there are things you don’t know, and you’re not being asked to pack your things into a box and take your fake and fraudulent face out of there.
So, really? Are you an impostor? Can you remember the last time you tricked someone, lied to get a promotion, or faked your way into the job you currently have?
Of course, you can’t. Because you didn’t. You’ve earned everything you’ve got. And you deserve all you’ve got because you are a loyal, dedicated, hard-working, never-good-enough leader. And when I say “never good enough”, I don’t mean, you’re not good enough. I mean that you think your work product can always be better. That’s why you sometimes feel like you’re fooling everyone.
In case you don’t know what Impostor Syndrome is, let me explain. Impostor Syndrome is a term used to describe the feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that can plague successful individuals. It’s the belief that any success or achievement can be attributed to luck or chance. It’s the belief that you are a fraud and that eventually, you will be exposed as a fake.
This, of course, is a complete load of nonsense, but people have managed to make it into a full-blown concept that has even found its way into the psychiatric handbook. While it’s not officially listed as a condition, it is certainly acknowledged and dealt with in the psychiatric world every single day.
So, let’s get this straight: you’re telling me that the same people who have worked hard, accomplished great things, and have all the evidence of their success are still filled with self-doubt? Give me a break!
Oh, I hear you now, “Whatever, Mr. Shortcut Man. Make fun all you want, but I have a serious case of Impostor Syndrome, and it’s not going away. I need help.”
I know. I hear you. But listen, if you’re feeling like a fraud, just remember this: you’re not alone. In fact, a recent study showed that upwards of 70% of people feel like impostors at some point in their lives. So, hey, you’re in good company!
But let’s stop messing around and get down to business. The feeling is real and we have to find a way to deal with it.
Understand, that the feelings of Impostor Syndrome are not so much a fear of failure (it’s really not that at all). It is the sense that we’re getting away with something and someone someday is going to find out.
First, remember that you are not alone in this. In fact, talking with others who have these same feelings is a great way to feel a sense of validation and belonging. It may not feel very comforting because you might think, “Great, theirs a whole bunch of us defectives faking it until we make it.”
But realize that you’re in the company of some incredibly successful leaders. You’re not going to find any mediocre or low performers in this group. They don’t belong. People who are not achieving at high levels, do not have the capacity to feel like they are faking it or were accidentally promoted again and again. Imposter Syndrome only occurs in highly effective people.
With that being said, know that you have come this far because of your smarts and your determination; not because of politics, nepotism, cronyism, or even luck. You work hard and you reap the rewards. And part of that is due to your penchant for perfectionism.
Yes, perfectionism rears its ugly head once again. And it is a primary driver of Impostor Syndrome. Because you always know that you can do better, you try to make everything perfect, you tend to get bogged down in the details, you have a hard time delegating, and you feel the consistent stress of lost time and the prevailing pressure of to create the most perfect product, project, or outcome possible.
But here’s the thing. If you really were an impostor, you’d have been found out by now. You’re too smart, too experienced, way too resilient to go down without a fight. So even if you do get found out, you won’t fold, you won’t quit, you’ll come back smarter and stronger, and with lessons learned…just like you always do.
A lot of what we just talked about revolves around emotional and mental fitness and resilience. But what can we actually DO to help tame this monster?
Well, there are five components to this shortcut.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. We often fall into the trap of comparing our own careers and lives to those of others who are more successful than we are. So many books and bios are released each year telling us how to be a good leader. And social media does not help. It’s unreasonable to compare yourself to someone who has years more experience than you do, or grew up in a different situation, or might have gotten lucky through a company reorg or knowing the right people. If you want to compare yourself to someone, compare yourself to yourself five or ten years ago. You are the only competition you need to be concerned about.
- Talk with your mentors. They will support you and guide you as they recount their own struggles with impostorism. Remember, 70% of people have these same feelings. And only successful people experience this, so it’s pretty likely one of your mentors has been there too. They can help you feel seen and heard and show you a way through this.
- Recognize and share your own expertise. Don’t only look to others who are more experienced for help. Make a list of all the successes you’ve achieved and all the skills you have to offer. Be proud of your growth and development and share your journey with others. Being a mentor for others will help you realize just how far you’ve come and how much knowledge and wisdom you have to impart. Plus, you’ll be able to help them with their own feelings of self-doubt. You know how they say, “teaching makes the best student”? Well, mentoring is the perfect way to do this.
- Be kind to yourself. In addition to recognizing and challenging negative thoughts through getting and giving mentorship, it is important to practice self-care and self-compassion. This can involve engaging in activities that make you feel good, such as exercising, reading, or doing things that make you feel relaxed and happy. It can also involve reaching out for support from friends and family when you are feeling overwhelmed.
- Interrogate the past. If all else fails, reflect and look for evidence of impostorism in your own life. Ask yourself, how did you get the role you currently hold? Who did you fool to get where you are today? And really, when was the last time you actually tricked someone? When you ask these questions, you’ll quickly find that you’re not a fraud or a phony, and you are definitely not an imposter.
The truth is that imposter syndrome is a complete and utter fabrication, designed to make successful people feel like failures. So, don’t fall for it! If you’re feeling confident and capable, then you probably are. And if you’re not feeling confident, just fake it until you make it! After all, that’s what confident, successful people do, right?
Seriously, if you’ve come to the place where you’re working hard, being smart, and struggling to cope with your thoughts and feelings on your own, sometimes you just have to ask for help. If you can’t find a way to reduce the monster or relieve the stress, you might want to talk with a trusted mentor or hire a professional coach. They can help you see the things you’re blocking, are blind to, or possibly putting in your own way.
So how will you know when you’re dealing with an Impostor Monster? Who will you seek out for support and guidance? And what will you do to connect and share with others to support them too?
Taming your Impostor Monster is no easy task. It’s big and scary and keeps coming back. But know that you’re not alone and seek the help you need. If you don’t have a mentor or a coach, call me. I’m here for you.