Do you ever feel like an imposter? What you can do about it.
Some of my executive coaching clients share that they feel like they’re over their heads in their roles as professionals and leaders; that sooner or later someone is going to discover that they are imposters. Many are accomplished women who have achieved incredible success in their careers, and are often the only woman sitting at the boardroom table. They tend to attribute their gains to pure luck or being at the right place at the right time.
What’s interesting is that fewer male clients that I’ve worked with, admit to feeling like frauds. Or perhaps men are more likely to keep their self-limiting beliefs to themselves. But some men do feel like imposters too and often only when they work with a coach does the truth come out.
In general, men who feel like a fraud don’t seem to beat themselves up about it like women do. However, Canadian comedian Mike Myers was quoted as saying “At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me”. Hey, if Mike Myers feels that way, we know we’re in good company and there’s hope for us mere mortals.
Imposter Syndrome Advice
A few years ago, I attended a keynote delivered by Dr. Valerie Young who has conducted much research on the beliefs that women have about themselves and their success. She followed up with a book of imposter syndrome advice called The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women – Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.
Me, Myself and I
WOW, I thought, she’s describing me to a tee. Well it turns out that I’m not alone, I noticed many other women nodding as she described imposter behaviours and patterns. Since then, I’ve recommended this book to clients as it normalizes how high achieving women and men often feel. It can be lonely at the top, especially when there is no one to validate your accomplishments and talents. Of course, when we suffer from this, we are our own harshest critics.
Five Imposter Mindsets
Dr. Young’s book is full of imposter syndrome advice, exercises and checklists to work through. She believes that people fall under one of 5 key mindsets: the Perfectionist, the Natural Genius, the Expert, the Rugged Individualist and the Super Woman/Man.
If you suspect that you’re living as an imposter, here are some key concepts and advice from her book to consider and work on:
- As the Perfectionist you are welcome to hold on to your pursuit of high standards, but shed the shame you feel when you fall short.
- As the Natural Genius you can keep your desire for mastery, as long as you recognize the time and effort that’s required to get there.
- As the Expert you can still value the importance of knowledge, but ditch the unrealistic expectation that you should know it all.
- As the Rugged Individualist you can take pride in the knowledge that you can go it alone if you have to, just stop thinking you must.
- As the Super Woman/Man you can honor your desire to be the very best you can on multiple fronts, but abandon the idea that you have to do it all.
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It’s important to acknowledge the positive traits you possess while letting go of the self-limiting tendencies that can fuel the Imposter Syndrome in you. Feeling like a fraud can paralyze you, make you risk averse and stand in the way of moving ahead in your career and life.
If you’re averse to taking risk, here are some steps that Dr. Young suggests to move beyond your comfort zone:
- Remember that not taking risks may be the riskiest move of all.
- Recognize those risks that you do take, that you may take for granted.
- Take one step a day to build your risk-taking muscles.
- Practice applying lessons from others who have taken risks and have achieved success and failures.
So what about you? Does any of this resonate with you? Are there times in your life where you’ve winged it and felt like an imposter? We’d love to hear your thoughts and how you’ve overcome these obstacles.
Posted by Joanne Blake – Canadian Branding Expert and occasional fellow sufferer
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