Imposter Syndrome: It Can Just Sneak Up On You
Growing up, I always had high expectations of myself. There was always a constant internal challenge of “doing better” and “achieving more”. This mindset trickled into my career as I strived to offer 120%. I was passionate and impacting people lives on a very direct and intimate level. It was not until I found myself in leadership positions I started to feel vulnerable. It was in this vulnerability I realized I do not want to write reports, or manage corporate initiatives. I wanted to write people’s life goals with them and manage life transformations. However, remaining in an environment which no longer served me I became disconnect with my gifts and what I had to offer others. I did not even see it coming, but slowly I started to loose sight of my strengths. I remained in this situation convincing myself this was where I needed to be in my career and it was in this place I realized I experienced aspects of Imposter Syndrome. Have you experienced it? Let me share with you what I learned.
First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among individuals who set high expectations upon themselves. In addition, they are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than their ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.
In my situation, I decided to speak about my feelings to people I trusted which helped me not only recognize these invalid feelings of self-doubt, but also helped me to realize how vital it is to stay true to my life passion. Directly connecting, inspiring and empowering people on their journey was my passion and I was no longer offering my gift to others. As I disclosed my feelings, surprisingly, others started to share their own stories. Studies suggest approximately 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their career. However, most people choose not to speak about it - reason being, part of the experience is that they're afraid they're going to be "found out". I came across a few books on the topic and one which stood out was a book titled, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, by Valerie Young. She builds on decades of research studying fraudulent feelings among high achievers.
Below is a summary of the competence types Young describes. You can see if you recognize yourself. Unsure? Try answering the questions to yourself.
The Natural Genius
The Rugged Individualist
By being aware of these possibilities, it can be really helpful in identifying habits or patterns that may be holding you back from your full potential. Try not to judge yourself, but simply notice if any of the descriptions remind you of how you approach your career/life.
1. THE PERFECTIONIST
Perfectionism and impostor syndrome often go hand-in-hand. It makes sense: Perfectionists set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up. Whether they realize it or not, there are usually struggles in regards to releasing some of the control; convincing themselves if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves.
Not sure if this applies to you? Ask yourself these questions:
Have you ever been accused of being a micro-manager?
Do you feel like your work must be 100% perfect, 100% of the time?
Do you have great difficulty delegating? Even when you’re able to do so, do you feel frustrated and disappointed in the results?
Do you accuse yourself of “not being cut out” for your job and ruminate on something not completed perfectly for days?
For this type, success is rarely satisfying because they believe they could’ve done even better, how exhausting is that!
How this relates to Our Emotional Health- Being able to celebrate our achievements and truly embracing our accomplishments is essential if you want to avoid burnout, find contentment, and cultivate self-confidence. Being able to gracefully accept your mistakes in stride and viewing them as a natural part of the process is part of maintaining a healthy mindset. The truth is we grow & learn most from our mistakes. The sooner you’re able to accept that, the better off you’ll be.
2. THE SUPERWOMAN/MAN
Since people who experience this phenomenon are convinced they’re phonies among real-deal colleagues, they often push themselves to work harder and harder to measure up. But this is just a false cover-up for their insecurities. In addition, their work overload may harm not only their own mental health, but also their relationships with others.
Not sure if this applies to you?
Do you stay later at the office than the rest of your team as you feel pressed to work harder and longer than those around you to prove your worth?
Despite your work experience, degrees and various achievements do you feel like you haven’t truly earned your title?
Do you find downtime is completely wasteful and consistently find a reason to work through your breaks?
How this relates to your Emotional Wellbeing- It resembles being addicted to the validation which comes from working. So, it is the validation which is the real focus not to the work itself. When we give power to external sources, it dictate’s whether or not we feel good about ourselves, this can lead to unhealthy consequences. No one should have more power to make you feel good about yourself, than you. It can be challenging but, learning to take constructive criticism as a personal growth opportunity and not just personally, can help. As you practice strategies to become more attuned & connected to your internal validation, as well as being able to nurture your inner confidence, you’ll be able to slow down, be aware and find a reasonable flow.
3. THE NATURAL GENIUS
People that view themselves as naturally gifted may conclude that if they have to work hard at something, they assume they must be bad at it. These types of impostors have many of the same attributes as the perfectionists, however, one way they differ is they have convinced themselves that they should be successful on the first try. They judge themselves based on irrational expectations and on reaching the expectations on the first attempt, or it becomes a concern for them.
Not sure if this applies to you?
Do you recall always excelling in school by getting “straight A’s”, “stickers” or “gold stars” in everything you do?
In your childhood were you the “smart one” in your family or peer group?
Is it difficult to ask for help or embracing a mentor, because you can handle things on your own?
Do you often avoid new situations and out-the-box challenges because it’s so uncomfortable to try something you’re unfamiliar at?
How this relates to Our Emotional Health- Avoiding new situations which can actually help you to grow is not a healthy mindset. To move past this, try this viewpoint - accomplishing great things involves lifelong learning and new skill building, even for those with confidence. Choosing when to be vulnerable and recognizing that self-worth becomes contingent on achieving new things are all part of nurturing our sense of being.
4. THE RUGGED INDIVIDUALIST
Sufferers who feel as though asking for help reveals their phoniness are what Young calls “rugged individualists”. It’s okay to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse assistance so that you can prove your worth. Not sure if this applies to you? Ask yourself these questions:
Do you firmly feel that you need to accomplish things on your own?
“I don’t need anyone’s help.” Does that sound like you?
Do you frame requests in terms of the requirements of the project, rather than being transparent and saying it is something a person can do to help you?
How this relates to Our Emotional Health- Collaboration is expected in most jobs and mastering how to actually achieve this is even more expected in today’s world. When achieved, it will result to great, sustainable outcomes. The mental framework for this type of imposter can lead to various interpersonal conflict, as it is hard to be a genuine team player if convinced nobody can do it as well as you can. Eventually, it can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnect.
5. THE EXPERT
People who fall into this competence type somehow forget they were interviewed and selected based on the skill set, capabilities and/or potential seen in them. Despite the reality of what they have to offer, they deeply fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable. This can paralyze them from fully embracing the role, project or challenge presented to them.
Do you feel that you don’t know “enough”? Despite successfully being in your role for a long time.
Do you feel uncomfortable when someone describes you as the “expert”?
Are you constantly seeking out training's or certifications because you think you need to improve your skills in order to succeed? I mean searching all of the time.
How this relates to Our Emotional Health- Participating in training and developing new skills is encouraged as it is a component of your vocational health. In addition, it can help you make strides professionally and keep you competitive in the job market. But when it feels endless, it can be viewed as a form of procrastination (please click here to listen when I spoke about this topic). Try to acquire a skill mindfully – meaning - when you actually need it, in the current moment. Examples of this is when you are asked to take on a new responsibility which you are new to or have not been involved in for some time.
Internally explore your own patterns and challenge yourself to approach something differently. It will result in various benefits and also help you heal your fraudulent feelings. The profiles above were not provided to label yourself as one or the other. The hope was to highlight to you that no matter the specific profile, if you struggle with these tricks of the mind, you are not alone.
Living with these mindsets minimizes your true worth and diminishes your gifts. Convincing yourself that your accomplishments were due to luck, chance, only good timing, or another external factor is unfair. How can that be nurturing your wellbeing? Start to challenge your mindset today, and then increase in increments… exercise self-compassion, embrace your capabilities, write down your accomplishments and/or share your knowledge with others.
Need more support? Than view this moment as an opportunity…let’s talk. Your Time is N.O.W.
Feel free to share your story or reach out. I would love to connect with you. – Angelique Benois