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Impostor Syndrome and Tackling that Fraudulent Feeling…

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

- Do you ever felt that you don't belong and that you're not as capable as your colleagues? - - Do you doubt your achievements and pass them off as just a 'fluke'?

- Do you regularly worry that you're going to get 'found out' and does that stand in the way of you putting yourself out there?

- Perhaps you're a perfectionist who feels driven to prove themselves over and over again?

If you've said yes to one or more of the above, chances are you're in the grips of the psychological phenomenon of 'impostor syndrome'. And believe me, you're not alone..

Many moons ago, I started my second job in media. I was elated. I’d been desperate to work in TV and the buzz of the industry, the myriad of ‘cool’ people and the fact we all had TV’s on our desks (I’m easily pleased) sent my excitement through the roof. It was a shame then, that my elation did a sharp U-turn just weeks after starting my new position.

I’d joined the team on the same day as another young woman who’d been recruited to do the same job. We instantly hit it off. We were born just days apart, we came from the same county, we had a similar outlook on life and we knew some of the same people. It was the stuff great friendships are made of.

So, imagine my horror, when over a drink one evening, she inadvertently revealed that she’d accepted the position many weeks before I had. She also knew the person who’d turned the position down before I accepted. The fact I wasn’t first choice was a shock, but the person who turned that job down just happened to be my flatmate, and former colleague. I knew she’d turned down a position, but she hadn’t told me where. It dawned on me that I wasn’t even second choice for my new role. In my head, I was the poor consolation-prize; and everyone around me knew it.

Cue the start of crippling impostor syndrome.

Immediately, my perspective changed. I felt constant pressure to prove myself, to show that I was worthy and equally as capable as my friend. I started pitting myself against her in an odd competition that she didn’t even realise she was part of. If she was praised, to me, it felt like direct criticism. If I was praised, it felt hollow.

I convinced myself that my bosses thought my opinion was worthless. I was sure I going to ‘outed’ as a fraud each time I spoke out in a meeting or responded to a question. I stopped asking questions, convinced that I should just ‘know’ how to do the job and then berating myself when I didn’t. I worked late to ’prove myself’, then spent days mortified after a director commented that I stayed late whilst colleagues managed to do their work in fewer hours. In short, it was totally, utterly draining.

Less than a year later, the company hit financial crisis and I immediately put myself up for redundancy.

In spite of having no financial security and no guarantee I’d be compensated given my short length of service, I did it to spare myself what I perceived to be the inevitable humiliation of being pushed - of having my lack of worth again laid bare for all to see.

The truth is, impostor syndrome is a total bitch.

It robs us of our self-worth, it eats at us from the inside and it drives us to make decisions that lie well beyond our best interests. However, recognising when you’re caught in it can be tough. (It wasn’t until a decade later whe I started studying this stuff that I realised it had affected me so badly.)

We all feel like impostors at various junctures of our life, often driven by new jobs, changing circumstances, feeling like we don’t fit in or in the face of self-perceived ‘failure’ (of which there is no such thing, as I’ll explain below). But recognising the symptoms of this psychological phenomenon and putting it in its place are crucial to not letting it get the better of you when those fraudulent feelings hit.

But what can you do about it?

Ten Top Tips for Tackling Impostor Syndrome

1) Accept your feelings, but also accept that you’ve played a pivotal role in your own achievements. They can’t all be a fluke! Impostor syndrome can often present in those of us with a strong sense of fairness. It can accompany a guilt that we were ‘gifted’ opportunities that others weren’t – but sustaining opportunities is not the work of an impostor!

2) Take note (literally) of your achievements and of the good things people say about you. It’s all too easy to forget when we are in the grip of impostor syndrome, but it’s important to remember, record and to contextualise our achievements for when we need a confidence boost and a reminder of our worth.

3) Recognise in advance that certain situations are going to make you uncomfortable or trigger the ‘fraudulent’ feelings. It’s only natural to doubt ourselves in new situations, around people with more experience or when we stand out for some reason (i.e. being the only woman) but that doesn’t make us a fraud.

4) Know that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback, and that perfection does not exist. In fact, perfectionism is a killer of confidence. We can’t be perfect, and we should not expect perfection from ourselves, or others. Life isn’t perfect and the only way to learn is to do things wrong and to try again by doing them differently. That doesn’t make you a fraud, it gives you a growth mindset and resilience, which is a wholly positive thing (especially for employers).

5) Ask for help.

Asking for help is not a weakness. If you don’t know an answer, ask for people’s opinions and listen to what they say. People like to feel needed and they enjoy having their egos flattered. Give them a platform to share their knowledge whilst you take a moment to calm yourself and absorb the answer.

6) Ask for feedback.

The British culture by default, does not lend itself well a feedback culture! We become conscious of saying the wrong thing or offending someone when the truth is that resourceful and well delivered feedback is an absolute gift that helps us grow. And we don’t ask for nearly enough of it! If impostor syndrome strikes, it can be worth asking for feedback. And you can frame it to get exactly what you need. You could ask for the one thing you do well and the one thing that could help you become even better, for example. Either way, ensure you ask for positives and write them down.

7) Appreciate that you can’t know all the answers, but you do know how to find out. Knowledge is an ongoing process and whilst you may have gaps, if you are aware of those gaps you are perfectly capable of filling them in as and when you choose.

8) Work with, not against yourself. If you’re the kind of person that leaves thing to the last minute, that doesn’t make you incapable or incompetent. It may be that you are subconsciously motivated by tight deadlines or that you react well under pressure. Work out what works for you and reframe it as a strength that makes you unique rather than a flaw.

9) Talk about it. It’s amazing how many people will admit to feeling the same way when prompted. Knowing you are not alone and establishing how others have dealt with it can be hugely reassuring.

10) Be kind to yourself

Keep that negative self-talk in check. Impostor syndrome can send our inner dialogue crazy with unhelpful thoughts and unproductive comments which in turn spirals our confidence downwards and makes the problem worse. Learn to recognise when that negative self-talk strikes. Ask yourself, would I say this to a good friend? Would a good friend say this to me? Identify it and ask yourself what a more resourceful inner dialogue would sound like.

If you’re struggling with the effects of impostor syndrome, please don’t suffer in silence. There are many ways we can transform your confidence, so drop me a line and we’ll range a free discovery call.

Nicole x P.S. If you’re a career-motivated woman who wants to calmly and powerfully put yourself out there without cringing or worrying what others will think, then I’d love to welcome you in my Facebook community, The Confidence Build for Women.

It’s a friendly, supportive community full of women just like you. It’s jam-packed with no-fluff support, inspiration, expert training and will help you find the motivation to show up and be the you that you deserve to be. I’ll see you there!

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