Imposter Syndrome is loosely defined as the belief that you are not as smart or talented as other people think you are, despite being an objectively high-achieving individual. Imposter Syndrome typically causes feelings of inadequacy and the fear of being “exposed” as a fraud.
Take Jessica for example…
Jessica is a high-achieving business executive for a Fortune 500 company. She has a Masters of Business Administration and nearly ten years of management experience, as well as multiple certifications in her field, and is highly-skilled in various accounting and finance software tools.
Jessica regularly completes her projects on time and plays a crucial role in helping her company hit all of their quarterly and annual goals.
Her co-workers would describe her as a strategic and analytical person with strong communication, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.
Yet, despite her great external success, Jessica feels like a fraud.
She doesn’t believe that she is as great as everyone thinks and experiences regular feelings of anxiety, fear, and dread about her career. Not only is she afraid to fail each time she begins a new project, but she believes that it is only a matter of time before she is “found out”.
When her peers acknowledge her success and give her praise, she has a hard time accepting it and doesn’t allow herself to relish in her success because she doesn't think she deserves it. She believes that her accomplishments are mostly attributed to luck, not her skills and expertise. Unfortunately, she is extremely hard on herself and holds herself to a higher standard than she holds others to.
There are a few reasons why Jessica is struggling with Imposter Syndrome, and they all lead back to her belief that she is not enough.
This belief stems from experiences in her childhood and growing up with a dad who was always insulting and belittling her, no matter how hard she tried to please him. Because she is not aware of how these past experiences affect her thoughts and beliefs today, she hasn’t been able to do anything about it.
I often tell my clients that similar to how we take issues at work home with us, we don’t leave our personal issues at the door when we arrive at the office. Although Jessica’s deep-seated thoughts, beliefs, expectations, and interpretations of past experiences all stem from her personal life, they are affecting her life at work. Until she gains awareness of her subconscious thoughts and beliefs, they will continue to influence her habits and behaviors and leave her feeling inadequate... She can't do something about something she's unaware of.
Over time, she may begin to self-sabotage and her Imposter Syndrome will eventually negatively affect her performance.
Self-sabotaging behaviors are most often very destructive to your life and career. They can be conscious or subconscious actions or inactions that undermine your progress and prevent you from achieving your goals, typically due to an underlying fear such as the fear of failure.
Examples of self-sabotage in your personal life (that may affect your professional life) include: staying up late/ not getting enough sleep, lack of communication, lack of boundaries, self-medicating, not taking care of your health, and avoiding responsibilities.
Examples of self-sabotage at work can include: missing deadlines, having a decrease in your quality of work, not being present at meetings or coming late/leaving early, procrastinating, avoiding difficult conversations, and not fostering and maintaining positive relationships in the workplace.
If you relate to Jessica, it’s likely that you are also experiencing Imposter Syndrome.
Other common signs of Imposter Syndrome include:
Low self-confidence or self-esteem
Inability to relax and enjoy the fruits of your success
Fear of failure (which manifests itself as procrastination)
Risk aversion due to fear of failure (to someone with Imposter Syndrome, failure “confirms” that they are an imposter)
Feeling like your success is fleeting or just a stroke of good fortune
Feeling like you can always be doing more, even when you’re giving it your all
While Imposter Syndrome can affect any successful person, it is particularly common in women who work in male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, technology, engineering, construction, and science.
Imposter Syndrome can be hard to spot in others because objectively they are hitting goals and meeting deadlines. But if you suffer from it, its symptoms are unmistakable.
The good news is that Imposter Syndrome does not affect underachievers or underperformers, so the very fact that you are struggling with Imposter Syndrome means you are successful!
When I work with clients who are dealing with Imposter Syndrome, the first thing I do is help them understand that their thoughts and beliefs of self-doubt are in complete opposition with reality. The things they believe about themself simply aren’t true!
I then help them uncover the root causes of why they are experiencing these pervasive feelings of Imposter Syndrome and help them gain awareness of how those core reasons are impacting their behaviors. From there, we begin the process of healing.
It’s also important to understand which type of Imposter Syndrome you are struggling with. These are the five common types of Imposter Syndrome:
The Expert knows their material inside and out and feels that they are unintentionally “tricking” people into believing they are smarter than they actually are. The Expert self-sabotages by not speaking up during meetings or at social events when they aren’t 100% sure of what they want to say. Most often what they are thinking is correct, but they don’t want to risk being “found out” so they say nothing at all.
This person is a quick study and has the ability to learn and retain information faster than most people. They don’t have to put much effort into understanding or remembering concepts and may have natural talents that made their years at school relatively easy. However, when they get older and inevitably experience failure for the first time, everything begins to crumble. They may find themselves working amongst other geniuses and begin to doubt their own abilities, which results in confidence issues. The Genius often lacks resilience because they never learned how to cope with failure or work through challenges. When they fail, they view themselves as failures rather than seeing the failure as an isolated incident.
The Perfectionist often struggles with insecurity and copes with it by projecting perfection in their lives and/or careers. They hold themselves to unrealistic expectations and often have trouble relinquishing control to others. The Perfectionist also spends more time working on a project than it should take, whether it’s writing an email, building a presentation, creating a proposal, etc. They work hard to project an image of perfection and having it all together, but typically struggle behind the scenes.
The Rugged Independent
This person doesn’t like to ask for help and will go to extremes to avoid admitting that they need it. They may view asking for help as a weakness, but don’t have the same beliefs for others who need help. They often push through difficult situations by themselves without realizing that others want to help them, and unintentionally leave those people behind. This can cause a lack of connection in relationships, which is the exact opposite of what the Rugged Independent wants. Deep down, we all have the need for connection and want the support of others, but because of their false beliefs about themselves, the Rugged Independent thinks they must do it all alone.
The Superstar is constantly exhausted from trying to prove themselves, yet constantly feels that they are falling short. Regardless of their exhaustion, they are driven to continue because they seek validation from their success, however this mindset isn’t sustainable and often leads to burnout. When the Superstar experiences burnout, it only worsens their feelings of inadequacy and feelings that they aren’t doing enough. Eventually, the Superstar is forced to slow down and evaluate their work-life relationship.
At its ugliest, Imposter Syndrome dims your light, stops you from speaking up and going after stretch goals, and leads you to give away your power, whether in your life or career, to someone who you view as more qualified to be in charge.
For example, I had a client, Rachel, who was a successful business owner suffering with Imposter Syndrome. Her business was such a success that in her first year, she earned double what her husband was making as an engineer, and he was able to leave his position. Rachel felt like she wasn’t actually good at business and she just got lucky with her idea. I could see, as a business owner of nearly 20 years myself, that what she had created was nothing short of genius, and that her beliefs about herself were completely contradictory to her reality.
Because of her Imposter Syndrome, Rachel gave away her power by making her husband the CFO and the Director of Operations of her business. Anytime she wanted to make a decision, she had to get his approval first. She admitted that he would sometimes give her pushback and that on some level she resented it, but she didn’t feel like she had a choice in the matter… After all, he was an engineer and therefore somehow smarter than her.
If you are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, you don’t have to keep suffering… There is a cure!
First, you must shift your mindset and how you see yourself.
One technique I love to use with my clients is to imagine that you are someone separate from yourself, such as a beloved child, your loving sibling, or your best friend. If they had accomplished everything you had, what qualities would you recognize in them? How would you perceive them? You likely wouldn’t belittle their success like you do your own. You would be proud of them for everything they’ve accomplished and you would know deep down that they deserve everything they’ve worked so hard for. If you were speaking to them the way you currently speak to yourself, you would be mortified. Now, speak to yourself with the kindness and understanding you offer to your loved ones.
Take some time to compile a list of your achievements.
Chances are, you will be surprised at how many things you once had on your goal list and have actually achieved. Rather than reaching a goal and immediately continuing onto the next one, take time to feel the joy of your success and be proud of yourself.
Pay attention to the stories you tell yourself.
I often talk about how everything in life is about the messages and stories we tell ourselves. Are your recurring thoughts in alignment with your reality? For example, you may have the recurring thought that your work won’t be satisfactory to your peers or higher-ups. But when you look back on past projects, has this been true? Have your co-workers repeatedly expressed concerns about the quality of your work? If not, you are not only telling yourself negative messages, but you are actually lying to yourself… In reality, you will exceed expectations because you have the skills and talents needed to do the job well. Because of your drive and the self-awareness you have regarding your performance, you are 100% qualified for the job! Start speaking to yourself more positively and more truthfully.
Choose a coach or mentor who will give you objective feedback.
Ask a trusted coach or mentor in your life what you can do better to improve the ways you speak about yourself. Although Imposter Syndrome is difficult to spot for those around you, chances are that a coach, mentor, or someone you are close with has picked up on how you speak about yourself and can offer you tools and strategies for practicing positive self-talk.
Question your beliefs about yourself, but don’t question yourself.
You are enough. You always have been and you always will be.